Thorton Funeral Home honors veterans at event
Funeral home hosts event to celebrate men, women, families
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.’”
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.
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.