Rendezvous With Destiny

Jeanne Harris Weaver, Memorial Day, 2012

Riversview Park, Cocoa, FL

A Rendezvous With Destiny

Jeanne Harris Weaver

Memorial Day Speech, 2012

City of Cocoa, FL, Riverview Park

 

Good morning. My best wishes to you for a very special Memorial Day; a day when we honor those men and women, who, with valor, fought and died for the freedoms offered to us by our great nation.

 

At home, I have a small flag made of parachute silk. It has a red border around a white center. On the white center are four blue stars. My Grandmother proudly hung that flag in her window to represent her four sons. Each enlisted in a different branch of the military service during WWII. All four sons safely returned home. 

 

When my son, Todd, as a freshman in college, joined the Virginia Army National Guard in 2002, and was deployed to Iraq, I investigated whether or not this tradition of the Blue Star moms still existed. It did. I hung a Blue Star flag in my window. In 2008, after Todd graduated from college, he was commissioned into the Army and was deployed to Afghanistan. I again hung that Blue Star flag in my window. In the early days after he was killed I remember thinking: What happens now? What happens to my Blue Star flag? My son is no longer fighting for our freedoms. What do I do with my Blue Star flag?

 

When Todd was killed there was an outpouring of sympathy and love from our community and the nation. Two weeks after his death, we held a Memorial Service in celebration of Todd’s life. The thousand seat capacity church was packed—many people we knew—and so many people we did not know all wanted to show their respect. 

 

The Westboro cult also made their appearance. The community as well as the famous Patriot Guard Riders banded together to be sure this, our solemn day, was not interrupted. After the service, we held a reception at our home for anyone who wished to attend. Among those was a couple we did not know who had also been Blue Star Parents. They presented us with a different flag. 

 

    a red border, a white center. Upon the white is a gold star.

    My question was answered. 

    I am now a God Star Mom.

 

I am the mother of four accomplished and successful children—two sons and two daughters—who I raised as Americans in the  seven countries where we lived abroad. Today, I am also the Grandmother to nine. My life has been blessed in many ways.

 

I am the daughter of a Marine who fought at Guadalcanal and the daughter-in-law of a Navy seaman who was at D-Day. I am the wife to a former Army officer and Mother to a son who is a Captain in the Reserves.

 

I am the niece to an uncle whom I never met. My Uncle Pete was a naturalized citizen of the United States. As an Army First Lieutenant, he was deployed during World War II, and was killed leaving a wife and baby son, who never met his father. 

 

I am a Gold Star Mom and a Proud American.

 

During my childhood years, celebrating Memorial Day, I remember my Mother. She would always buy a Buddy Poppy. And she would say to me—“This Memorial Day is the day when we remember Pete, my brother, who gave his life so that we may enjoy the safety and freedom our country offers us.”

 

The Veterans of Foreign Wars adopted the poppy as a Memorial Day symbol in 1922. But, the creation of a poppy pin in memory of our fallen soldiers originated seven years earlier with Moina Michael. She conceived the idea after reading the famous poem, In Flanders Fields. She also wrote a poem. One stanza reads:

 

We cherish too, the poppy red

That grows on Fields where valor led

It seems to signal to the skies

That blood of heroes never dies. 

 

And so, on this Memorial Day, we wear our poppies. We fly our American flags. We lay our wreaths and place little American flags among the grave stones on the hallowed grounds of National Cemeteries in honor of our fallen heroes. 

 

Memory is Mightier than death.

 

It was early in the morning on September 9, 2010. The sun was just beginning to show—perhaps 6:30. I had talked with Todd on the phone from Afghanistan the night before. He said he was headed out on a mission. He asked his dad to send him some information which he needed. We exchanged our love for each other. 

 

Todd had sent an e-mail on September 7. He said things were going well, his platoon was performing well; but he hoped that soon there would be gravel to keep down the blowing dust and that soon there would be showers. They had been waiting six weeks for those simple necessities. I owed him a response to that e-mail. And so, with coffee in hand I headed to the den to write him. As I passed the foyer, I noticed a figure at the door. Alone in the house, I was frozen in my tracks. The penetrating brown eyes of the female Army Captain willed me to move forward. Todd had been killed by an improvised explosive device while leading his patrol on a mission early that morning. He was with his men of the 101st Airborne (Air Assault) Division—his Band of Brothers.

 

Todd’s wife, Emma, who lived outside Ft. Campbell in Tennessee had already been notified. I would have to call my husband and tell him by phone as well as Todd’s brother and two sisters. By that evening our family was congregated together at our home preparing to journey to Dover, Delaware the next morning. There, we would meet up with Todd’s wife, Emma and baby Kiley. And there, we would witness the dignified transfer of Todd returning to American soil.

 

September 10th was a dreary, grey morning as we drove to Dover. We were escorted out to the tarmac. Chairs were brought for Emma and myself. The cold, hard elevated conveyor machine high above the ground slid Todd’s flag draped coffin from the transport area of the plane. The General knelt to say a prayer at Todd’s coffin. The sun broke through the clouds and I felt the comfort of a warm brilliant light and a first sense of peace. 

 

Losing a loved one is always hard. Losing a child unexpectedly is inconceivably difficult. Although time helps the mending, the heartache for the dreams you share for your child are just a memory away. 

 

I am a Gold Star Mom

 

On September 11, two days after Todd’s death, we received word that the Veterans Society of The College of William and Mary, in Williamsburg, VA, where Todd had graduated, would lay a wreath next to the 9/11 wreath in honor of his ultimate sacrifice. 

 

Todd’s life was altered by the events of 9/11. As a senior in high school, with so much confidence, and the world ahead of him, he vowed that he would make a difference to our country. He vowed that he would see that terrorism was kept at bay and would not reach the shores of our country again. 

 

In 2008, Todd graduated from William and Mary, summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa. He was commissioned into the Army through the College ROTC program. He was ranked 36th among 4,000 ROTC cadets in the nation. He went on to Officer Basic School and then on to Advanced training where he became one of the elite Rangers. He was hand chosen to be assigned to the famous 101st Airborne Air Assault Division—The Screaming Eagles. 

 

In August of 2009, Todd became a father. Later from Afghanistan, Todd wrote a fortuitous letter to his daughter, Kiley: “…You are truly a gift from God. The best day of my life was the day you were born…My life was not complete until you were born…”

 

As an Infantry Officer, Todd was deployed to Afghanistan in May of 2010; and much to his dismay was given the cushy job as Executive Officer.

 

Those Screaming Eagles were fighting a tough and relentless fight in the Arghandab Valley of Afghanistan, an area where the Taliban was deeply rooted and the terrain challenging. The local villagers lived in fear of the Taliban. They were denied access to tend their pomegranate orchards. The 1/320th Artillery Unit was having tough battles fighting an infantry war. As an infantry 1st LT, Todd volunteered to train and lead those men. 

 

In the early dawn hours of September 9, Todd was leading his troops through the gnarly pomegranate orchard. Preparing to climb over a large berm of soil, he stepped on a rock masking an IED. He was the only soldier in his Platoon to be killed or injured that early dawn. The terrain made it impossible for a helicopter to assist. His Platoon soldiers who had come to love him dearly carried him back to their outpost. 

 

Todd was the last of eight soldiers to be killed in the 1/320th. He was the only commissioned officer to lose his life in that unit. After his death, the area was named Strong Point Weaver

 

In the days and months ahead the Screaming Eagles fought on to capture that area. In an address to the troops during the Kandahar Memorial for Todd, his Colonel said—

 

“I am a better person for knowing Todd. Due to his actions we are one step closer to cutting off the Taliban in an area of great importance to them. Todd died fighting to protect his Soldiers, his family and our country. There is no greater honor.”

 

They leveled that area of all IEDS and built village housing and a school where the villagers could live and work, free and safe.

 

I am a Gold Star Mom

 

In July of 2011, our family visited Ft. Campbell for the dedication of the Operation Enduring Freedom Memorial. The rest of the 101st had returned home and we were able to meet and talk with many of the men with whom Todd had served. They gave us much needed details about his life in Afghanistan and about his death. They told us how much he was admired for his leadership, his friendship and his humanity. At an evening function one soldier drew me close and whispered in my ear: “Todd was my best friend” and then he added, “He will always be my best friend”. 

 

On one of the Memorials dedicated last July are inscribed the words—

 

“For those who fought for it, freedom has a taste the protected will never know.”

 

I am a Gold Star Mom

 

As an artist, when Todd was killed, I was unable to paint. It was not until after four months when I picked up my brushes and began to paint—not the typical seaside scenes; but instead a tribute to Todd. I painted about those events I witnessed; those small mementos locked away in my cedar chest, those memories of a small boy. My series of twenty-one paintings was a year in the making. I painted over forty hours a week. These paintings, Losing Todd: A Mother’s Journey are being exhibited this weekend at the Porcher House. They will also be exhibited the month of June at the Cocoa Beach Library. At the completion of this Tribute, I will be at the Porcher House. I invite you to join me to view the paintings. 

 

On October 14, 2010, Todd was buried with highest honors in Section 60 at Arlington National Cemetery. His funeral was attended by more than 300 people. A large number of them had never met Todd; but wanted to show their respect in some way to a Soldier who made nation wide press. Also in attendance was the former Chairman of The Joint Chiefs of Staff, ADM Mike Mullen and his wife. They offered their condolences to each immediate member of our family. 

 

The fortitude, courage and allegiance that Todd felt each day as he lead his men through that unforgiving terrain was momentous. Each man knew that each step could be their last. The area was so full of so many IEDs hidden from their sight. 

 

Behind each fallen soldier’s obituary is a life; and, so many people who were an integral part of that life. The ancient Greeks had a saying, A man is not dead until he is forgotten. I hope that my story has helped you to put a face on all of our Soldiers who have paid the ultimate sacrifice. For my family, time helps us to navigate. Our thoughts of Todd are always with us. He is just a memory away. For you to take the time on this day to recognize the ultimate sacrifice given by our soldiers and the sacrifice I have made in losing my Todd is a priceless gift to all our soldiers, their families and to me. I ask you to keep Memorial Day in your hearts every day of the year. 

 

In closing, I would like to read a poem by Archibald MacLeish:

 

The young dead soldiers do not speak.

Nevertheless they are heard in the still houses.

    Who has not heard them?

They have a silence that speaks for them at night,

    and when the clock counts.

They say: We were young. We have died. 

    Remember us. 

They say: We have done what we could; 

    But until it is finished, it is not done.

They say: We have given our lives; 

    But until it is finished no one can know what our lives gave.

They say: Our deaths are not ours. 

    They are yours. They will mean what you make them. 

They say: Whether our lives and our deaths were for peace and a new hope,

    Or for nothing, we cannot say; It is you who must say this.

We leave you our deaths; give them their meaning.

We were young, they say. We have died.

    Remember us. 

 

God bless our fallen heroes; and God bless you. 

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1LT Todd Weaver
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