DFW Airport—A drumline led the Snowball Express parade through DFW Airport, followed by Disney characters escorting families of fallen soldiers on Saturday, Dec. 7. The Gary Sinise Foundation volunteers and American Airlines employees surrounded the group, cheering for the families. These Gold Star families are jetting off to Walt Disney World to celebrate the holiday season, and build new memories while remembering their lost loved ones.
“We picked up families from 22 cities in 13 charters to bring them here to DFW,” Rt. Gen. Robin Rand, CEO of the Gary Sinise Foundation, said. “Together they are flying to Disney World for 5 days. We have about 1,000 children and over 700 parents or guardians of Gold Star Fallen heroes.
“The purpose is to remind these families that the American public loves them. We want to give them a reprieve and have a little joyful moment in these seasons. Also these families get to network with others who have the same experience. I am passionate about the Gary Sinise Foundation, because after 40 years in the military, these are the families of the people with which I served.”
“I have volunteered for 11 years in a row, and this year, I got picked to fly,” Cpt. Doug Wood said. “It is the chance of a lifetime. The Snowball Express is a wonderful experience. American Airlines is such a philanthropic organization and working with the Gary Sinise Foundation is one of the ways we support our veterans and their families.”
The pilots and flight crew all volunteer their time to the Snowball Express, including decorating the plane and playing with the children during the flight.
“I have been on one of these trips before,” Keegan Roberts (14) said. “We all are Gold Star families. All of us children have the same loss in common. We all know what it feels like to have lost a parent, and we need to take time to be quiet and sad. I lost my dad in 2007. He was killed in action. I know he was a good man, and it is nice to be able to talk to the other families here about their moms and dads as well. I have made so many close friends through this organization.”
Sandy Morgan, who lost her husband, was at the kickoff with her son, David (16). They are excited to honor their loved one with this trip.
“It makes it a lot easier to spend time with families who have also experienced loss,” Morgan said. “Where we live now there are no other Gold Star families. In his school, he is the only one who has a parent in the military who was killed. Other children just cannot understand, and even the school cannot give the best support since they do not know what it is like.”
“He was a funny guy,” David said. “He had the best catch phrases. I know he would like that we are going on this trip. He would want us to go the Star Wars ride first.”
Many of the families were wearing matching shirts in memory of those they lost. Sadie and Hannah Whalen were wearing shirts that read ‘In loving memory of David Whalen.’
“Matthew Whalen passed away in December 2007 here in Fort Worth,” Hannah said. “He was a four time active service member. Christmas has been different for us, so I am excited to be able to rewrite this season a bit. It is the first time we have been on a trip like this. I have been touched by all the people coming out to support us and making such a big deal out of us.”
“Me and my mom are going to Disney World,” Sadie (7) said. “I am going to ride every single ride.”