Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Heroes United: A Special Mission Report

Mission Report:
Gold Star Family Event, "Heroes United"
St Cloud, MN ~ May 3rd, 2008

Heroes United was developed in response to comments made by some Gold Star families that they wished they were able to contact other Gold Star families for both support and to offer comfort. The Board of Directors approved this event in the fall of 2007 and the planning began to evolve.

The event was to be hosted by a Gold Star family, with all communications coming from them. It was important that the other families believed and trusted the person sending it had their best interest at heart. We also decided to get at least 2-3 families in the planning so that all final decisions were made by them.

The Beardsley family (SSG BJ Beardsley) agreed to be the host family. Also participating on the planning committee were the Benson family (LCpl Johnathan Benson) and Turcotte family (Sgt Nicholas Turcotte). Representing the MN Patriot Guard were Doug Bley, Jeff Good, Deb Good, Chris Lind, and Pam Johnson.

The desire of this event was to focus on the fact that their loved ones are heroes and will never be forgotten. The goal was to create a setting in which all of the families could meet each other, exchange information, share stories of their healing, help each other emotionally and show the world they are united in remembering our heroes.

The team agreed to centrally locate a hotel to for the convenience of the families traveling in from the all parts of MN. St Cloud was the city chosen and the Radisson Suites selected as the site.

The families were insistent that the membership of the Minnesota Patriot Guard be part of the day and they were willing to risk uninvited guests and press as a result of that. That in mind and believing at the time that May 3rd would be bright and sunny riding weather, the St Cloud leadership team was asked to develop a staging area and plans to move anywhere from 100 to 1,000 motorcycles. Challenged by the closure of the Highway 23 Bridge the team worked closely with the St Cloud PD and Technical College and developed a 1-mile movement plan that minimized the impact on city traffic and ensured the safety of our members. To comply with city ordinances the St Cloud sector leadership team needed to get the signatures of all the businesses surrounding the hotel that they agreed to our using the sidewalks. After many trips downtown all 30 signatures were gathered.

Months of planning were involved to make this a dignified and meaningful event. With only 4 months to work with, it became at times a full time job to make it come together. But the day of May 3rd arrived and we were ready.

The weather initially showed no signs of cooperating with us. The forecast was to be in the 40’s - 50’s with a likelihood of rain mixed with snow. When we woke up the sun was shining but they nailed the temp forecast right on, coupling it with strong winds.

It didn’t deter over 160 hardy Minnesotans from coming to the mission. Nearly 100 bikes and many cages begin to move from the staging area at 11:15 AM and by 12:30 PM they were all there. From the registration area of the hotel we could hear the V Twin rumble so we all went outside to watch the first group come in. It never ceases to amaze me -- the power of having all those bikes slowly work their way in with flags flying in the wind and the flashing lights of squad cars.

The RCIC of the flag line positioned the MNPG all around the hotel so that as the families arrived they were greeted once again by our group of patriots holding flags in reverence and honor.

We asked that the members use the day as a way to reconnect and honor the missions they had been on. Where we usually stand in solemn silence they were encouraged to talk, laugh, and celebrate our heroes.

Inside the hotel lobby we stationed two motorcycles that were custom painted to honor our fallen heroes. Both drew a lot of attention from not just the family members as they made their way to the registration area, but also from the many other guests of the hotel as they asked what was going on. The opportunity to watch their faces as they understood the gravity of the day was fulfilling as we accepted the expressions of gratitude from the general public.

At 2:00 PM the registration table was opened and the 112 people from 30 families began to stream in. As each registered they were given a commemorative pin that only these families are allowed to wear as well as a CD from Crystal Lyons titled, "Hero."

Each family was invited to bring two 8 x 10 photos of their hero to be placed on a table of honor. When it was done at least 40 feet of table space was used for this inspiring display. Candles were placed in front of the pictures and the flickering effect when the lights were turned down was reverential.

As the families gathered it was very serious and somber. As many didn’t know what to expect they anxiously scanned the program to try to get a sense of the day and what was ahead. There was a small group of MNPG members who had RC’d many missions and knew many of the families. Their role was to talk to them as well as look for folks who needed to be reassured the day would be worth staying for.

We discovered one of the local law enforcement officers had served with one of our fallen heroes, and he had an opportunity to meet his fallen brother’s family for the first time. It was an emotional experience for both the family and the officer.

At about 3:10 PM any family member who wished to was invited to walk by the flag line and gather at the front of the hotel. What we originally had thought would be a small group of family members turned out to be all of them!!! As they walked down the sidewalk in a group they couldn’t help but stop and hug the members to say “Thanks.”

As we gathered all the members together, the families faced them with a lot of emotion. Using a bull horn so the whole group could hear them the Beardsley and Benson families expressed their appreciation to the members. The theme of the message was the flag lines we form give them comfort more than we could imagine. Seeing the flags in the breeze have helped all these families stand a little bit taller and face their dark days because they know they are both protected and loved. The members of the Minnesota Patriot Guard were dismissed with honor -- and more than a few tears.

The program was set up for 1.5 hours.

Welcome ~ Jim & Dianna Beardsley
  • Pledge of Allegiance
  • National Anthem ~ Jamie Borden ~ Brother-in-law of SSG BJ Beardsley
  • Invocation ~ Chaplain (LTC) John Morris ~ MN Army National Guard
  • Video Biography of the Beardsley family ~ Lifetouch Photography
  • Monica Mead ~ MN Patriot Guard State Captain
  • Reading of a letter from President Bush to the families ~ Cassie Borden ~ Sister of SSG BJ Beardsley
  • The Honorable Tim Pawlenty ~ Governor of the State of Minnesota
  • Video Remembrance ~ Jeff & Deb Good ~ MNPG Ride Captains
  • Jeff Seeber ~ Vietnam Veteran, US Navy & Founder of the Military Salute Project
  • Song “The Heroes We Left Behind” ~ Cody James ~ Friend of the Beardsley’s
  • Prayer and Remarks ~ Chaplain (LTC) John Morris
  • Final Remarks ~ Jim and Dianna Beardsley
I can not even begin to capture the emotions of the speeches and the heart that was given in each word being spoken.
  • LTC Morris made a point of complimenting Governor Pawlenty for genuinely supporting these families often behind the scenes.
  • Stacy Beardsley in the video, telling everybody it is OK to talk about it and to call her if they can’t find anyone else to talk to.
  • Monica spoke of our “Thank You Argument” where we often respond with “No...Thank You,” noting the impact that honoring our heroes has had on us when we are invited into the lives of their families.
  • Governor Pawlenty recognizing the families for raising the solid and honorable men and women of our military, and making a personal pledge to be always be there to help these families.
  • During the playing of the MNPG video produced by the Good’s, seeing the look on the families' faces as the name and picture of their hero scrolled across.
  • Jeff Seeber talking about the empty chair. In each of these families is an empty chair that their hero used to sit in; these heroes are remembered by people the families may never realize. To see the transcript of the Jeff’s speech, click here
  • After the program, a young man affected by Down’s Syndrome came up and asked the Governor if he could bring his brother back. How Governor Pawlenty could handle answering “I can’t, son,” is beyond me.
Taking a small break before dinner, many families had the opportunity to reach out again but this time there was some laughter starting to be heard. The hardest part of the day was over and people could start to breathe again. Governor Pawlenty again proved what a genuine person he is as he got on the floor for pictures with the children letting them make “bunny ears” on him. I got to hug and chat with a Mom who had come back from a Florida vacation just for the day because she felt it was the right thing to do.

After dinner the mood was lightened considerably by the awarding of donated door prizes. A company had donated 10 raffle tickets for the MNPG motorcycle raffle that Jeff Good and I used as an opportunity to tease each winner as they approached the podium. Once we awarded all 10 of those Dave Woodward jumped up with a check to buy 10 more… and once they were gone the Turcotte family came forward with 10 more tickets!!! All in all 32 tickets (Thank you Monica and Marge for the last 2) were given away but the best part was watching the heavy air leave the room. People were laughing and joking… they were breathing again.

The best raffle winner was the young man with Down’s Syndrome winning a ticket. He was beaming ear to ear...everybody cheering him...and high-fiving Jeff Good so hard he almost knocked the podium down!

As we cleaned up our materials and settled up with the hotel, we kept watching the ball room. While the families were invited to stay until 9 PM… the MNPG team left about 6:30. It was all worth it watching the interaction the families were having. Every goal we set was being met. Every hope we had was being realized in there.

There are so many people to “Thank”… but my special “thanks” goes to Jeff and Deb Good. Be it ideas, sounding board, video production, or just being there, none of this could have happened as well as it did without them.

Planning committee:
Jim and Dianna Beardsley
Steve and Marjie Benson
Jen Turcotte
Doug Bley
Jeff and Deb Good
Chris Lind and Pam Johnson

Rob Boisvert
Marge Boisvert

Jim Deadrick
Keith Schaefer
Greg Studer

Flag Lines:
John Redfield
Joe and Pat Fucile
John Stolte
Greg Studer
Dave Winkler

LEO Contact:
Phil Pesheck

Deb Good
Marge Boisvert
Jen Graftaas
Pam Johnson
Linda Pesheck

AV and Video:
Tim and Laurie Leonhardt

Marjie Benson

Bikes in the lobby (HUGE hit with all the hotel guests):
Chris Lind
Ron Reineke
Lance and Sue Vascher (Tribute To The Troops)

Monica Mead
George Winslow
Mike Hangaard
Dave Woodward
Nate Zenker
Craig Ugland

Bill Schuster
Jen Turcotte and Family
Gregg Campbell

Shannon Hady

Monica Mead
Governor Tim Pawlenty
Jeff “Sailordoc” Seeber
Chaplain (LTC) John Morris, Minnesota National Guard
Lifetouch Video
Cody James (Country/Christan song writer)

Raffle Ticket Donations:
Fox Express (Los Angeles, CA)
Dave Woodward
Turcotte Family

The event staff at the Radisson
The city of St Cloud
Sgt Marty Sayre and the St Cloud Police Department
Mayor Dave Kleis
St. Cloud Police Officer's Union

If this event is held again is up to the families who attended. They are in complete control of its destiny and future.

We have received many beautiful emails thanking us for this event. One in particular grabbed me and made me a shake a bit when she said this:

“Thank you personally, and to all of you collectively, for all you do for our Fallen's families. I imagine that when each of you arrives in heaven, you will be greeted with a Patriot Guard's Guard: our Fallen lining the corridor to heaven, cheering and welcoming you home.”

I am honored to have helped plan this event. To call it a “labor of love” would be to say it was work, so I am trying to come up with a different description of it. Every hour spent working on it was worth it when you could see the faces of our heroe's families. Each mile I have traveled across this state was worth it when a Dad or Mom looks at me and says “I remember you.” Every smile I see from a family who at some point in the past thought they would never smile again gives me the energy to get up again at “oh dark thirty” to go to another mission.

None of this would even have been possible without our members. The thousands of people who have ridden and driven thousands and thousands of miles… standing in weather from +100 degrees to minus 40 degrees.. all on their own time and their own dime.

Your efforts matter to these families. We will never know the depth and extent of what we have done. We can only trust in their words that it made a difference not just on that day but every time they see a flag.

To close I would like to thank the families of all of our Fallen Heroes. As Governor Pawlenty noted in his talk, these families raised the solid, dependable and committed men and women who defend our country every day.

Some families could not attend, but they were no less in our thoughts. For those who were able to attend Heroes United, we recognize it took a tremendous amount of courage to come, and to remember those they have lost in the presence of many others. Doing so brings countless feelings to the surface – pride in those who gave all, and pain at their loss. May it comfort them in some small measure to know that we will not forget.

Respectfully submitted,

Doug Bley
Minnesota Patriot Guard Board Member
NW Metro Ride Captain