FORT BRAGG, N.C. - For Families of Soldiers who gave their lives for their country, life goes on without the loved one they lost. The children still have to go to school, while the spouse takes on the additional roles that come with being a single parent and balance their grief with their daily lives. Together the Family works to heal and reestablish the bonds that connect them not only to each other, but to the Family member who did not make it home. Pattie and Kyle Petty know what it is like to lose someone. When they lost their son, Adam, in May 2000, they worked to fulfill his vision of opening a camp for children with chronic medical conditions or serious illnesses. In 2004, they opened Victory Junction, a year-round camping facility dedicated to creating happy memories for children in Randleman, N.C. The Pettys approached Secretary of the Army Pete Geren in 2008, offering the camp and its services to surviving spouses and their children. The opportunity to provide a weekend getaway for surviving Families closely aligns with the Army Community Covenant and the Army's commitment to working with the local community to care for Soldiers and their Families. After working closely with Fort Bragg, Victory Junction hosted the first "Fallen Heroes" weekend Friday to Sunday. "When we first heard about Gold Star Families, we realized they have a need and we could meet that need by reuniting mothers with their children," said Pattie Petty. Petty said that having lost a child, she knows what loss is and the importance of a change of atmosphere. "We bring Families here, just wanting them to be able to smile and laugh. They get to leave their sadness at the gate, just enjoy themselves and get past their circumstance," she said. The camp has a NASCAR feel, with brightly colored buildings around an oval sidewalk housing the programs the campers participate in. The Families got an opportunity to participate in a variety of activities, including archery, arts and crafts, fishing, mini golf, horseback riding, theater, kickball and more. "This has been a blessing to me and my Family," said Shanaye McFarlane. Her husband, Chief Warrant Officer 2 Jackie McFarlane deployed to Iraq with 1st Battalion, 52nd Aviation Regiment out of Fort Wainwright, Alaska. He died of injuries suffered in a helicopter crash. The Family moved back to Fort Bragg because they had been stationed here before and it was where he planned to retire. "We have been through a lot since 2007 when my husband passed away in Iraq. Seeing them here and smiling means they're doing okay. I hope they can do it again," McFarlane said. She and her children, Jamee and Joshua, along with the 16 other Families attending, painted a flag honoring her husband's service and their lives together. While the children got to reconnect with their parents through the planned activities, the parents also got a chance to connect with each other. "Everyone here knows what it's like and it's unspoken. I don't have to explain," said Wesley Bauguess. "We all live in different ways with different variables, but we're walking down the same road." Baugess also lost her husband in 2007. Maj. Larry Bauguess deployed to Afghanistan with the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division and was killed in action in Pakistan. His wife said he would have appreciated what Victory Junction gave to his Family. "He would have loved this," said Bauguess. "Being here has not only brought us closer together, but it has brought us closer to him as well." Bauguess said that the chance to reconnect is priceless and that she appreciates the chance to be "fun mommy" again with her daughters, Ryann and Ellie. While these surviving spouses may not get the chance to be "fun mommy" very often, their children all seemed to appreciate what their mother's have done for them. Many of the children in the arts and crafts building were carefully hiding the projects they were working on and said that they were Mothers' Day gifts for the women who have stepped up and been both mother and father to them. The Pettys hope to make the Fallen Heroes camp a regular event and open it up to surviving Families of servicemembers stationed around the world. They will continue to keep the camp experience completely free of charge for Families, to include travel and meals. "At this time in our country, I don't think we can give our vets back enough," said Petty.

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16