Sunday, September 09, 2007

Have You Forgotten? Meeting the Parents of Ronald J. Hemenway, KIA Pentagon September 11

An important date is fast approaching: the anniversary of September 11, 2001. As the years pass, even as we remain at war, for some that date and the shock of the attacks is fading to a distant memory. There are some who believe that the grieving of our nation should be lessened. There are some who believe that we should "move on" and let the dead rest. There are some who would like the war to simply go away so that they can go on with their lives unchanged.

Most who believe this were not personally touched by the tragic act of war that was perpetrated on our nation. They were far away or didn't personally know anyone who was lost or who had lost a loved one.

Then, there are those that can never forget because that day was more than an attack on our nation. There are those that can never forget because September 11, 2001 changed their lives profoundly and forever.

Bob and Shirley Hemenway are just such people.

We met Bob and Shirley by happenstance at a small town get together in Cleveland, Missouri. Cleveland, Missouri is about 30 miles south of Kansas City. Population 592. Today's event was held on Main St. There were approximately fifteen booths, largely organizations like Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, the Lion's Club, etc. Funnel cakes, hot dogs, cotton candy and soda were sold at various booths to raise money for their programs. Several musicians played throughout the day until evening when a band came on and people were literally dancing in the streets. Something that you only see in the movies, but really does happen here in small town America.

Soldiers' Angels had been invited by the town to have a booth for free right in front of the post office on Main Street. The mayor offered us an opportunity to speak to the crowd. Throughout the day, the entire population of the town and surrounding farms came into town to enjoy the festivities.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: there is nothing like small town events. We enjoy going to large events where we can reach great numbers of people with out message for supporting the troops, but in small towns, the pace is slower, the people like to stop and chat and we get an opportunity to really let people know about how they can support the troops.

At the end of the day, we had been there for about seven hours and we were trying to decide if we were going to stay for the night time activities. We had several folks stop by to pick up t-shirts or information about how to support our troops.

This is the mother of Sgt Matt [redacted], United States Army. Sgt Matt just came back from Iraq. He is one of the few Explosive Ordinance Disposal members that are in great demand in Iraq to clear IEDs and VBIEDs, the number one killer and injurer of our troops. She is going to see him in two weeks. We gave her a coin and Thank You card to give him when she gets there.

This lady chatted with us for awhile. She has a group of ladies that meet once a week and they were extremely interested in how they could participate and support our troops.

This young officer stopped to check out the pictures of our troops and the support that we send.

This couple stopped by to check out our booth. As we chatted, Mrs. Hemenway revealed that her son Ronald J. Hemenway, ET1 USN, was killed on September 11, 2001 in the Pentagon. His remains were never found. His name appears on the Pentagon September 11 Memorial in the Arlington National Cemetery. He has a separate marker in Arlington in the MIA section.

When we go to these events, we often meet someone special that makes the event worth every moment. Whether it is a veteran or a family member, it reminds us why we do what we do. The Hemenway's were visiting their son Robert and his wife Dawn who live in the community. As we chatted and they revealed who they were, they expressed to us the importance of supporting our troops in every way. They told us about the flag that Sen. Sam Brownback had flown over the capitol in Ronald's honor and how their son Robert had put a 25' flag pole to fly the flag. We gave them a thank you card, a pocket angel, an angel pin and a challenge coin. They thanked us for supporting the troops.

Mr. Hemenway talked about his son serving on the USN La Salle. He was wearing a hat from the La Salle. As we continued to talk about supporting our troops, Mrs. Hemenway broke down in tears and hugged each of us. Then Mr. Hemenway hugged each of us, shook our hands and said, "God bless you for what you do." It was hard to stay dry eyed.

I asked them if they would like to send a message to our troops. It was only as I was driving home later that I realized that this meeting was so special: the anniversary of 9/11 is in a few days. It was, in many ways, as if fate had taken a hand. Who would have thought that in a small town, at the crossroads of two highways that are only designated by a letter, dotted by farms and huge pastures, we would meet the parents of one of our first fallen of the war?

Many ask whether we should continue to honor September 11 as we have every year. There are people who still remember. The Hemenway's can never forget. Our men and women are still fighting the war in many places around the world.

We will not forget.

Message to the troops from the parents of Ronald J. Hemenway, ET1, USN:

Have you forgotten?

- May no soldier go unloved