Thor­ton Funeral Home honors veter­ans at event

Funeral home hosts event to cel­e­brate men, women, fam­i­lies

Maryland Independent - - Front Page - By JOHNATHON CLINKSCALES jclinkscales@somd­news.com

Ex­tend­ing ap­pre­cia- tion, en­cour­age­ment and thanks­giv­ing with a spe­cial tribute to veter­ans who served in Afghanistan, Iraq and the War in North-West Pak­istan/ Waziris­tan con­flict, the staff at Thorn­ton Funer- al Home hosted its sixth an­nual “Hon­or­ing Our Veter­ans” cel­e­bra­tion Sat- ur­day in In­dian Head.

More than 20 veter­ans and guests at­tended the event, which fea­tured a brief his­tor­i­cal overview of Veter­ans/Ar­mistice Day and past wars, an in­ti­mate mu­si­cal per­for- mance as well as a “Your Story” fo­rum in which lo­cal veter­ans spoke about their ex­pe­ri­ences.

Maryland State Sen. C. An­thony Muse (D-Prince Ge­orge’s) was the guest speaker. Other no­table guests in­cluded county Com­mis­sion­ers’ Pres­i­dent Peter Mur­phy (D), Charles County State’s At­tor­ney An­thony Cov­ing­ton (D), Charles County Sher­iff Troy Berry (D) and Bill Buff­in­g­ton, chief ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of VCon­nec­tions Inc., based in White Plains.

“We do this re­ally as a form of ap­pre­ci­a­tion and thanks­giv­ing,” said Tanja Carter, a funeral home em­ployee who served as the mistress of cer­e­monies. “We re­ally do want to honor our veter­ans.”

Carter said the event isn’t meant to be a pro­gram. Rather, it’s a tan­gi­ble ex­pres­sion of grat­i­tude and a tribute to veter­ans that have sac­ri­ficed and served their coun­try.

Ev­ery year, the staff en­cour­ages more veter­ans to not only come out and be rec­og­nized, but to also share their per­sonal sto­ries as a tes­ta­ment to the sac­ri­fices they made, she said.

“This was born out of my heart,” Carter said as she stood at the podium. “Some­where along the lines, some­thing just came to my heart about the veter­ans be­cause the veter­ans give up their lives for us. When I say they give up their lives, I don’t just mean maybe they have died in ser­vice. But the men and women who are in the [armed forces] and gave up that con­ve­nient life, that fami- ly life, that work life. You all do that for us and that war­rants a ‘thank you.’”

Carter said it’s im­port- ant to have a sense of ap­pre­ci­a­tion for veter­ans within the community be­cause it shows oth­ers have grat­i­tude, an aware­ness and an un­der­stand­ing of their con­tri­bu­tions and val­ues.

In re­turn, veter­ans and their fam­i­lies get a sense of more de­ter­mi­na­tion, hope and sup­port as they read­just to civil­ian life.

“Ev­ery per­son’s ser­vice is sig­nif­i­cant and ev­ery per­son’s ser­vice is im- por­tant,” she said.

“We had to re­store law and order in the na­tion,” said re­tired U.S. Army Col. Thearon Wil­liams, who spoke about his ex- pe­ri­ence serv­ing in Iraq, from 2008 to 2009, as a team ad­vi­sor to the Iraqi Na­tional Po­lice chief. “Some­times we take for granted, here in Amer­ica, that you wake up and there’s a po­lice force read­ily avail­able to an­swer the call. There’s a fire department read­ily avail­able to an­swer the call. There are pub­lic ser­vices that hap­pen as need be.

“But in Iraq, once we came in and took over the mil­i­tary mis­sion, we helped re­store those ba­sic ser­vices of gov­ern­ment,” Wil­liams said. “And along with that, we had to train other folks that were there on how to pro­vide those pub­lic ser­vices.”

Wil­liams — a mem­ber of the Buf­falo Sol­diers Mo­tor­cy­cle Club of Cen­tral Maryland, who now

works as a con­trac­tor for the De­fense Health Agency in Virginia — said he is glad to have served his coun­try and en­cour­ages more veter­ans to con­tin­u­ally pro­mote the his­tory and legacy of the countr y’s for­got­ten heroes.

Wil­liams’s fel­low com­rade, Jef­frey Free­land of La Plata, is also a re­tired U.S. Army colonel. Free­land pub­licly spoke about his ex­pe­ri­ence for the first time Satur­day.

Hav­ing served two 15-month tours in Iraq and a year-long tour in Af- ghanistan, Free­land said spend­ing time away from his fam­ily was in­deed a hur­dle.

But for Free­land, a for- mer com­man­der, the big­gest chal­lenge was deal­ing with the loss of 16 sol­diers and at­tend­ing 160 me­mo­rial ser­vices for the fallen heroes he knew and loved like his own fam­ily.

In­stead of griev­ing, Free­land said he and his wife spend ev­ery Veter- ans Day with two of his sol­diers — who have lost limbs — deal­ing with life af­ter war.

“We take their fam­i­lies out to din­ner,” he said. “I al­ways tell peo­ple that … there’s noth­ing bet­ter than pro­tect­ing your coun­try and serv­ing with the man to your right and to your left. There’s def­i­nitely a bond that you can’t even talk about un- less you’ve been there. The in­ter­views that you re­ally need to think about are the fam­i­lies — those kids. When I started de­ploy­ing, my daugh­ter was about 4 years old. When I fin­ished de­ploy­ing, she was about 12 and I lost a lot of time with her.”

“Kids and wives suf­fer quite a bit. Veter­ans suf- fer, too, but I will tell you — the fam­i­lies suf­fer a bit as well,” Free­land con- tin­ued. “Ev­ery day my daugh­ter went to school, peo­ple were say­ing, ‘Your daddy is go­ing to get killed.’ Or with my wife, ev­ery time she looked at the TV, [she would won- der if I had been killed]. … But I love my coun­try and I’ll do it again.”

When it comes to serv- ing veter­ans and their fam­i­lies, VCon­nec­tions Inc. is a re­sults-ori­ented or­ga­ni­za­tion that pro­vides mo­bile ser­vices, out­reach pro­grams and sup­port in the ar­eas of ed­u­ca­tion; health and well­ness; ben- efits and claims; ed­uca- tion and sup­port; transi- tional hous­ing; mil­i­tary re­lo­ca­tion; le­gal aid; lo­cal, state and fed­eral em­ploy­ment; and community re­sources.

The or­ga­ni­za­tion part- ners with lo­cal, state and fed­eral busi­nesses to ex­pand op­por­tu­ni­ties through work­shops and we­bi­nars; work­force devel­op­ment ser­vices; job fairs; col­lege prep as­sis­tance; fam­ily coun­sel­ing ser­vices; sup­port semi- nars for ser­vice­women; and ad­vo­cacy for veter- ans’ con­cerns and issue at the lo­cal, state and fed­eral level, ac­cord­ing to a VCon­nec­tions Inc. brochure.

“I stress fam­ily,” said Buff­in­g­ton, who founded the or­ga­ni­za­tion in 2013. “Whether it be mom or dad com­ing back, it’s a huge ad­just­ment.”

Ac­cord­ing to Buff­ing- ton, vet­eran pop­u­la­tions lo­cated in the ru­ral ar­eas of the coun­try are most un­der­served. That is why VCon­nec­tions aims to ed­u­cate veter­ans and their fam­i­lies about re­sources that are read­ily avail­able to them — all in an ef­fort to bring them closer to­gether, he said.

“We are find­ing daily that Veter­ans Day is ev­ery day,” Buff­in­g­ton said. “We have just signed a con­tract with the Col­lege of South­ern Maryland to sup­port our stu­dent veter­ans who are tran­si­tion­ing back home. We’re look­ing to part­ner — that’s the key.”

“I think it’s shame­ful for any of our veter­ans to be dis­charged and then, for any rea­son, come home and be home­less,” Muse said. “I get the calls from ac­tive ser­vice per­sons who are deal­ing with the prob­lems of re­lo­ca­tion — hav­ing to fit over and over again into new com­mu­ni­ties and the stress of their fam­i­lies re­lo­cat­ing. The stress of wor­ry­ing about the safety of their fam­i­lies while they are away.

“We should do bet­ter. We have to do bet­ter. I know we need to do bet­ter. You de­serve bet­ter,” Muse con­tin­ued. “You de­serve ad­vo­cacy from our na­tion in a bet­ter way to say that, ‘We have not for­got­ten the ser­vice that you gave.’”

STAFF PHOTO BY JOHNATHON CLINKSCALES

Maryland State Sen. C. An­thony Muse and Charles County Sher­iff Troy Berry, cen­ter row, bow their heads as U.S. Army vet­eran Ernest Baker of Clin­ton plays “The Star Span­gled Ban­ner” on his trum­pet dur­ing the sixth an­nual “Hon­or­ing Our Veter­ans” cel­e­bra­tion Satur­day at Thorn­ton Funeral Home in In­dian Head. All at­ten­dees were given a red rose in re­mem­brance of the fallen sol­diers who sac­ri­ficed their lives in the line of duty.

STAFF PHOTO BY JOHNATHON CLINKSCALES

Re­tired U.S. Army Col. Jef­frey Free­land of La Plata stands at the podium as fel­low com­rade Thearon Wil­liams, also a re­tired U.S. Army colonel, lis­tens to him share his mil­i­tary ex­pe­ri­ence with guests. Free­land served two 15-month tours in Iraq and a year-long tour in Afghanistan. Both he and Wil­liams are mem­bers of the Buf­falo Soldier Mo­tor­cy­cle Club of Cen­tral Maryland.

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