Thanksgiving is a time for family and friends to gather and be thankful for all the blessings they have in this life, as this soldier, Army Spc. Tylan Peterson, experiences late Monday evening when he is greeted by his girlfriend, Veronica, at the Liberal airport when eight area soldiers flew home for the holidays with funds raised locally to pay for their trip before they are shipped overseas for active duty. One soldier’s aunt, Charlotte Hill, helped start “Operation Holiday Memories” to raise funds for the airfare to get them home in time for Thanksgiving. Daily Leader photo/Janie Kitch
Community comes together to bring soldiers home for the holidays
By JESSICA CRAWFORD
• Daily Leader
The holiday season can be particularly difficult on military families. Often times, soldiers are deployed either somewhere in the states or overseas. Operation Holiday Memories allowed eight military personnel from the Southwest Kansas area to come home for Thanksgiving late Monday evening. They, along with their families, are nothing short of grateful.
Charlotte Hill teamed up with Ed Poley of Whirlwind Career Counseling Center for Veterans to get the project underway, after a suggestion from her nephew, Sgt. Tyler Antrim. Antrim was one of the soldiers to greet family Monday night.
“It was an awesome experience just to come home for the holidays and see the family again,” Antrim said after flying into Liberal from Indianapolis. “It just makes you happy.”
For most of the soldiers, Antrim said, without Operation Holiday Memories, Thanksgiving would have been spent on an empty base in Indianapolis.
“Me, I might have been able to get home, but mainly it was for the lower enlisted soldiers that it was for – the ones that don’t make quite as much,” he said. “A lot of them would not have been able to make it home if this hadn’t happened. I actually called my Aunt Charlotte to see if she could help out with some of the guys and that is how it all started.”
Originally, Hill said approximately $2,500 was raised for the project. But, as the need grew, so did the contributions.
“We had a few more people that found out about this that didn’t have the means, so we just made it all happen for them,” Hill said. “It went wonderful. It was wonderful. We raised almost $8,000 so far. We were able to bring home eight servicemen. Seven flew in here and we dropped one off in Garden City.”
Hill clearly stated this mission will continue.
“This isn’t going to stop,” she said. “We appreciate the donations. There are more people, more needs and other times. If there is an actual emergency, they can always get home with the Red Cross, but only in an emergency situation. This thing is totally a hole that needed to be filled.
The gratitude expressed by the servicemen, Hill said, was astounding.
“So many of them came to us (Monday) night and said if we hadn’t done this, they wouldn’t have been able to come home,” she said. “They just leave them there, the mess hall is closed. They totally fend for themselves. People don’t understand that the government only pays for transportation for 150 miles. When you are in Indianapolis and your home town is Liberal, Garden City, Dodge City and Hugoton – that is a lot more than 150 miles. It is sad because these people give so much and get so little. So, this is the least we can do.”
Sgt. Antrim’s daughter, Kaydence, 3, reflects perfectly the emotions of the families that will get to spend this Thanksgiving with a father, mother, brother, sister, son or daughter that without Operation Holiday Freedom, would not have occurred.
Sgt. Antrim said his daughter was not easy to put to bed Monday evening.
“She was extremely happy, I know that,” he said. “She was smiling and the only thing she said all night when I was trying to get her to go to bed was, ‘I missed you, daddy.’”
Sgt. Antrim added the other soldiers had similar experiences.
“All of them were extremely excited,” he said. “One of them will have a kid when he is gone. Another one, he has a little boy that is about 11 months old. So, they are all extremely happy to get to come home.”
Hill overheard a conversation between Sgt. Antrim and his daughter. She said it was nothing short of heartwarming.
“His telephone accidentally called my house when we were at the airport, she said, ‘Daddy, I have gotten so big, look at me!,’” Hill said.
Following the holidays, these particular soldiers will be deployed to Iraq for over a year, Antrim said. Friday, they will fly out of Liberal with holiday memories they will cherish for years.
Donations to continue Operation Holiday Memories can be sent to Whirlwind Career Counseling Center for Veterans by contacting Ed Poley at 626-6646 or (620) 482-3431 or they may be dropped off at the receptionist’s desk at First National Bank at 1700 N. Lincoln. Hill can be reached at 626-3203.