Butterflies bring a little joy to survivors
May 30, 2013
FORT LEE, Va. (May 30, 2013) -- The combination of a gentle breeze blowing on a sunny afternoon, 36 butterflies fluttering into the air and support from the military community brought moments of peace and even joy to the surviving family members who attended Fort Lee's first Survivor Outreach Service May 22.
Gathered in the Survivors Memory Garden -- a new site adjacent to the Army Community Service facility on Mahone Avenue -- the participants included 44 family members and their relatives, as well as various installation leaders and other supporters from Team-Lee.
During the ceremony, the honorees gathered in a circle around the pictures and names of their 20 fallen loved ones. Those honored and remembered were stationed at Fort Lee or live in the SOS program's area of responsibility.
One highlight of the ceremony was the butterfly release that brought smiles and laughter among the family members as they opened their small packets and then watched in delight as the butterflies -- some slowly and others quickly -- fluttered away into the trees and flowers surrounding their new home.
In explaining the meaning of the butterflies to the survivors before the release, Angela Bellamy, ACS Survivor Outreach Services coordinator, said, "This is a special time to remember and honor our fallen. Butterflies are a symbol of life and freedom. Butterflies are native. They will fly and ensure the continuation of their species, keeping memories alive."
She then read a poem, which concluded, "Now fly away butterfly as high as you can go. I'm right there with you more than you know."
"That little butterfly made my day," said Connie Piper, a surviving spouse, while wiping tears from her face. Her husband, Sgt. Christopher Piper, was killed in 2005 while serving in Afghanistan. "Today was a bad day for me until I saw my butterfly. He made my day. Right now, I'm just enjoying this memory -- oh, that beautiful little butterfly."
She explained her brother's birthday also falls on the day she lost her husband.
"When June 16 starts coming around, I am starting to feel some dread. It's starting to build up in me already. I try not to get emotional, and I think about other things. Like that butterfly," she said with a smile.
"Mine went north and flew that way (pointing to the sky)," said Robert Fitzgerald with a laugh. His son, lst Lt. Almar Fitzgerald, 22, lost his life on Feb. 22, 2006, in Afghanistan. "There it is circling, maybe looking at me," as he laughed again.
"I kind of look at it that my son is not dead -- his organs were donated to a 7-month old baby and a 97-year old man. He's still overseas for me."
While talking about his son, Sgt. Lawrence G. Sprader Jr., survivor Lawrence G. Sprader Sr., said, "My wife (Lee) was crying when I got up today. It's hard for me because we lost him so close to Father's Day. We were hoping on bringing him home. God had other plans. He loaned him to us for 24 years."
Speaking about the memory garden, Sprader said, "This really helps us. We can come here and reflect at anytime. It gives us time to free our minds and remember all the good years he gave us. But he's missed."
"Today, we are here to honor and remember those who have lost their lives while serving on active duty," said Col. Rodney Edge, Fort Lee garrison commander, during his welcoming remarks. "Memorial Day is a time set aside to always remember and never forget those who have bravely served our country and paid the price for the cost of our freedom. The 36 butterflies released honor and remember the fallen service members and their loved ones who are part of our Fort Lee community."
In his invocation, Chaplain (Col.) Chester Egert, said, "We dedicate this garden to their memories. We are here to remember their sacrifices and to remember the sacrifices of their families. I pray we will always remember their sacrifices."
Stephanie Parker, ACS director, who became a survivor herself when her father, Air Force Tech Sgt. Booker T. Bethea, died during her childhood years, said she has bonded with many survivors over the past year and a half. "We have shared tears and some joys. I want to thank them for trusting us to help them through these stages of life. It's always comforting to have a friend. Here, you have a friend,"
Bellamy gave a special thanks to First Command for the donation of the butterflies, and to BB&T for refreshing the memory garden and providing lunch for the surviving families at the Regimental Club following the ceremony.
After the events, family members bonded with other survivors. The conversations began with questions about their butterflies. The solemn day brought some reflection to all assembled.
The memory garden opened in March 2012. It features benches, two solar-powered fountains, trees and flowers in the park-like setting.