Thursday, September 11, 2008

September 11th, 2008

The following is an introduction to Parents of War: Surviving the Folded Flag (Casualty Coping & Courage Through the War on Terror) by Deborah Tainish which will be released January 2009. On September 11th we thought it was the perfect story to share. For more information no the book,

In memory of U.S. Navy Electrical Tech 1, Ronald John Hemenway

“Death leaves a wound no one can heal. Love leaves a memory no one can steal.”
Irish Proverb

Since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and ensuing wars against radical Islam, many memorials have been created to honor all who have died. As a parent of one who died in battle against terrorists, and as a writer, I feel it my duty to also contribute to the memorials and history of our current times, to assist by leaving behind information and stories related to parents of war, their heroic children, and the heroic journeys trod following the deaths of their children who sacrificed for us all in the defense against radical terrorists.

The citizens of America have been blessed with a country of freedoms built on sacrifices made by selfless men and women of prior generations who brought us into the 21st century feeling safe and secure in our individual personal lives. That is until the morning of September 11, 2001.
On that day, the personal worlds of many families became twisted and torn as hot steel folded and fell at New York’s Twin Towers and at the Pentagon. My friends Shirley and Bob Hemenway were one such family.

Living in Shawnee, Kansas, Shirley was driving her grandson to school that morning. With time to spare before going to work, she stopped at a friend’s home for a brief visit. As she pulled into the driveway, her cell phone rang. On the other end of the line, Shirley’s daughter, Sheri, asked her mother’s whereabouts. After learning that her mother had just parked in the friend’s driveway, Sheri told her that the Pentagon had been attacked. Shirley didn’t understand what her daughter was talking about until she entered her friend’s home and saw the fall of the Twin Towers on television, followed by a picture of the “hit” on the Pentagon. The mother of six was dumbfounded as her cell phone began ringing with one call after the other from her children. That is, all but one. Shirley’s son, U.S. Navy Electrical Tech 1, Ronald John Hemenway was one among the personnel that worked in the western side of the Pentagon, the E-Ring, which was the point of attack.

All Shirley could ask was, “What in the world is going on?”

When her son Paul called, she told him to go to her home and tell his dad, Bob, what was happening. By the time Paul reached his parent’s home, a reporter showed up at the door, at which time Paul told him he had to leave.

By noon Shirley and Paul met at their family’s church to pray with their pastor. All that was known in those early hours of September 11, 2001, was that no American citizen watching television could have ever imagined the horror that had beset our nation. Terrorists had crashed jet airliners at 8:46 and 9:03 a.m. EST against New York’s World Trade Center where the spread of jet fuel, balls of fire and smoke was incomprehensible as our nation began grieving what was to become more than 3000 dead. By 9:37 a.m., American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon and killed one hundred and twenty five Pentagon personnel and all 64 on board the plane.

By 10:03 Flight 93, intended for the White House, was diverted by American heroes on board who had learned of the prior three crashes. Through their efforts and sacrificing them selves, the plane crashed into a field 80 miles southeast of Pittsburgh.

After their prayers at the church, Shirley and her son Paul returned home where the call came in from the Department of Navy. By evening, with the Hemenway family gathered, five Navy personnel arrived and reported that ET1 Ronald John Hemenway was missing.

Ronald had joined the Navy in November, 1994 at the age of thirty. In August, 1994, Ronald, still single, had left his mom a note saying that he was out looking for a job, and would not return home until he had found one that offered a true career. When he returned later that evening, he told his family he had joined the Navy. At first they believed he was kidding.

Ronald’s life had begun on July 25, 1964 in Alaska where his dad worked in telecommunications. The third child, Ronald was a gift after the death of Shirley and Bob’s second son at six months old. Ronald graduated from high school and subsequently attended the University of Alaska in Fairbanks for two years. Shirley describes her son as having been a “braniac” who loved reading, especially encyclopedias. He wasn’t into sports, but he gained a love for horses after taking photographs of them for his college photography class, which led him to attending an equestrian school.

During Ronald’s early twenties, the Hemenway family moved to Shawnee, Kansas due to Bob’s job transfer. In Shawnee, Ronald never found work that he felt would lead him into a life career that he enjoyed. Joining the Navy in 1994 became his answer. Ronald graduated at the top of his class from Electronics School in Great Lakes, Illinois, and was awarded the Distinguished Military Graduate award. With such honors, he was allowed to choose his duty station on the USS La Salle in Gaeta, Italy. He arrived there in May, 1996.

While in Italy, Ronald met the woman that would become his wife, and became father to a son and daughter. By March 2000, Ronald’s request was accepted for assignment to work for the Chief of Navy Operations at the Pentagon.

Shirley and Bob Hemenway had been thrilled that their son and his family were back in the states and closer to them. But 9-11 changed all of that.

After the Hemenways received the visit from Naval personnel telling them their son was missing, a naval casualty assistance communications officer was assigned to assist them with concerns. After spending a week in limbo following the attacks, the Hemenway’s and their daughter-in-law were flown to Crystal City, Virginia. All families of those killed at the Pentagon were living at the Sheraton Hotel awaiting word of the recovery of their loved one’s remains. The Red Cross assisted with lodging and meal costs for the families while they also received support from chaplains, support dogs, and a daily briefing from the General that kept them apprised of developments. After any remains were found, identified, and returned to families, they chose to hold memorials, have burials at Arlington, or return to their homes for funeral services.

As days turned into weeks, and the FBI chose to cease the searching, the Hemenways were one of five families whose loved one’s remains were never recovered. On December 8, 2001, Shirley and Bob received a military death certificate from the Department of the Navy, and two Gold Leaf insignias.

On January 12, 2002, a cold but sunny day in Shawnee, Kansas, a memorial service was held for Ronald at the Hemenway’s church, Hope Lutheran. A ceremony followed at their home with bagpipes and the raising of a flag onto the twenty-five foot flag pole that had been set by Ronald’s brothers on September 12, 2001.

Shirley and Bob have since traversed their journey with support from their church family and TAPS (Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors of military personnel) headquartered in Washington, D.C. They had made acquaintance with TAPS founder Bonnie Carroll during their stay at the Sheraton in Crystal City while waiting with hope for the recovery of their son’s remains.

After learning that Bonnie was from Alaska and that her husband, Brigadier General Tom Carroll, had been killed in a plane crash, the Hemenways and Bonnie had an immediate connection. Through Bonnie’s sincere care and invitation, Shirley and Bob made their first visit to the TAPS National Military Survivors Seminar in D.C. during Memorial Weekend, May 2002.

As months passed, families across the Unites States were cast into facing the incomprehensible deaths of children and other military family members fighting the subsequent wars against terrorism in Afghanistan and Iraq. By 2004, Dave and I had been visited at our home by this uninvited guest of death when our oldest son was killed in battle. Over Memorial Weekend, 2005, Dave and I met Shirley and Bob during our attendance at the TAPS annual survivor’s seminar. The location was at the Doubletree hotel across from the Pentagon, which was fully repaired by September 11, 2002.

Through our meeting, we became bonded parents through terrorism and war. Afterwards, we remained in touch through e-mail and subsequent visits to the annual TAPS event.

Shirley informed me that on September 10th and 11th, 2008, families of those killed in the Pentagon would come together for a special ceremony. Through tears, on 9/11/2008 I watched C-Span’s live coverage of the ceremony and unveiling of the Pentagon Memorial comprised of benches etched with names of each of the those killed in the Pentagon and those on American Airlines flight 77 that will forever provide remembrance to those who died at the hands of wickedness. A memorial that will provide to future generations not yet born an acknowledgement that out of twisted concrete and steel came The Phoenix Project responsible for raising funds and creating this lasting monument as proof of the ability of our nation’s people to rise together from the ashes to never forget the injustice that befell our nation and families on 9/11/2001. Each individual that died that awful day will be memorialized by way of a bench with their name etched into the concrete. The benches will remain placed in rows at the western side of the Pentagon.

Through this book I am able to share journeys of courage and coping by military families across our nation who sent sons and daughters to war, and said final good-byes holding a folded flag. These are also stories of bitter-sweet pride of parents as they share insight into the lives of their warrior children. Children who grew from the little boy or girl next door to men and women who volunteered to defend our nation, and others, against terrorism by serving in the different branches of the United States Military.

For me and all those who contributed to this book, our greatest hope is that our children never be forgotten, that our journeys to get up everyday and find purpose will help others who follow our path, provide inspiration to any reader, and for the people of the United States to be reminded of the sacrifices made to ensure their freedoms.

May our nation never forget that an evil enemy strives to destroy our way of life and cherished freedoms as the terrorists attempted to do on September 11, 2001 when they made such horrendous efforts to crush us by destroying a major financial center, killing the innocent, and leaving raw grief to be endured by families such as the Hemenways.

May our nation never forget that freedom never has, and never will be free, or without the sacrifice of those willing to volunteer service for a cause greater than themselves.

-Deborah H. Tainsh
Gold Star Mom
Fayette Front Page
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Fayetteville, Peachtree City, Tyrone

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