Memories Of Fallen Soldier Live On
November 16, 2010
- "The goal is to see the people and the faces, and connect them to the community. They can see our Soldier's faces through us."
- "He chose the infantry because it was what he wanted to do. He wanted to join the Army to be an Airborne Ranger."
- "You want people to remember their sacrifice. You want people to remember there's a war going on right now."
- "Fallen Soldiers were real people. Seeing us - their families - makes people realize these Soldiers are still alive through us."
REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. -- Veterans memorials symbolize a lot of what America's military stands for - duty, service, respect, honor, patriotism, strength, sacrifice and much more. To the families of those memorialized, that symbolism goes right to the heart of their very lives.
And so it is for the Hall family: parents Annette and Charlie, daughter-in-law Allison, granddaughter Audrey, daughter Emily and many of their relatives who live each day with the memory of their fallen Soldier - Staff Sgt. Jeffrey Hall - and the Army values that defined his life.
For this Hartselle- and Huntsville-based family, the local Veterans Day Parade gave them an opportunity to show their support and love for their fallen Soldier. They will walk in the parade with the Veterans Memorial Foundation's three-part float entry, "Courage, Sacrifice, Duty."
"We'll be walking with the Sacrifice float," Annette said. "The names of the fallen from the North Alabama region will be on the float. We will carry pictures of Jeffrey and a Gold Star flag. A Patriot Guard rider - Buster Mills - will escort us."
The Hall family walked with a message in the Veterans Day Parade on Nov. 11 in downtown Huntsville. They want other Gold Star families, those families who love a fallen Soldier, to become a part of community activities that honor the memories of their Soldiers.
"The goal is to see the people and the faces, and connect them to the community. They can see our Soldier's faces through us," Annette said.
"Last year, we were in the viewing stands at the Veterans Day Parade as guests. I made a promise that starting this year the Gold Star families would be represented in the parade so that people can understand our fallen Soldiers are the boy next door and the girl across the street, and people - their families - are connected to them. My main thing is I don't want anybody to ever forget Jeffrey's sacrifice and service and honor. That's a mission for me."
Twenty-eight-year-old Staff Sgt. Jeffrey Hall was killed June 1, 2009, in Nerkh, Afghanistan, when an improvised explosive device detonated near his vehicle. Jeffrey was a squad leader and a Ranger, a Soldier who was on his third tour in Afghanistan assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 87th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division (Light Infantry) from Fort Drum, N.Y.
He was a husband who was soon to celebrate his second anniversary and who experienced the joys of parenthood for six months before his last deployment. He was a son and a brother who loved his family, and respected the service of his uncles and grandfathers. As a boy, he dreamed of being a Soldier, and loved making trips to the military surplus store to shop for Army gear and watching military movies with his dad. He loved University of Alabama football, bow hunting and spear fishing.
"I called him 'top shelf Jeff.' Everything he did or bought had to be the most expensive and the best," said his dad, Charlie, a Marshall Space Flight Center engineer.
"He chose the infantry because it was what he wanted to do. He wanted to join the Army to be an Airborne Ranger. He was average in high school. He liked sports cars. Most of his friends were not oriented toward the military. But he joined straight out of high school and signed up to go into Ranger school if he could make it."
The Veterans Memorial - or the current lack of a Huntsville-based memorial -- is the key focus of this year's Veterans Day Parade as volunteers with the Veterans Memorial Foundation work to raise the last dollars needed to fund the $3 million memorial to be built in downtown's Veterans Memorial Park. The theme for this year's parade is "Courage, Sacrifice, Duty" - the same words that will be highlighted on the memorial -- and the public can purchase $100 pavers at the park on parade day in support of the memorial. A groundbreaking for the memorial is set Dec. 7.
For many, the Veterans Memorial honors servicemembers lost in the nation's historical wars, including World War I, World War II, Korean and Vietnam. But the memorial also honors servicemembers lost more recently in the Global War on Terrorism.
"You want people to remember their sacrifice. You want people to remember there's a war going on right now," Charlie said.
"People remember Vietnam and World War II, but they tend to forget today's war. People will remember the troops by putting a ribbon on their car or truck, but then they forget. We want them to remember there are daily sacrifices going on."
Jeffrey's wife Allison and 2-year-old daughter Audrey have traveled from Allison's hometown of Angel's Camp, Calif., to North Alabama to spend time with Jeffrey's family and to also participate in the Veterans Day Parade. Allison knows her husband's spirit will walk with his family Thursday.
"Fallen Soldiers were real people. Seeing us - their families - makes people realize these Soldiers are still alive through us. We don't want them to be forgotten," she said. "Every chance I get I do things that keep Jeffrey's memory alive."
Allison sees the memory of her husband every day in the little girl he so dearly loved. The couple met through a mutual friend.
"I just loved the way he was," Allison said. "I loved how he stood so proud and was so confident in the Army and what he did. He was stubborn and so was I. But his eyes were kind and soft. As a staff sergeant, he was a tough and rough guy. But he was so kind and I saw that kindness.
"He was a family man. He was with Audrey for her first six months and he was so awesome with her. I'd watch him with his daughter and watch his eyes melt with her."
Jeffrey could have bypassed a third deployment simply by taking an assignment that would have kept him stateside.
"But he couldn't leave his men," Allison said. "He was a great man. He was proud of what he did. He loved what he did."
Allison was at home in Angel's Camp when news of Jeffrey's death reached her by phone.
"I had just booked tickets for us to fly back here because Jeff was coming to Huntsville a month later for R&R," she recalled. "I was leaving the vet's office with our dogs when my neighbor from where we lived in New York state called me and said you have two men in uniform at your door. I found it online and two hours later the phone call came."
The family traveled to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware to accept Jeffrey's remains. Through the sorrow, the family has relied on each other, and friends and co-workers. They have grown stronger in their love and their belief that Jeffrey would want them to go on with life.
"Being an Army wife, you have to be a strong person because you know this can happen at any time," Allison said. "When he died, I had to have the strength to take care of Audrey. If I didn't have her it would be hard to get up every morning. I'm very blessed. I've also been there to help a lot of the Soldiers who were with Jeff, either in his vehicle or in the vehicle behind him. They were all really good friends."
Although they want Jeffrey's memory to remain very much a part of their world, remembering their loss can still be bitterly painful at times.
"It's a day by day thing. It is always with you," Annette said. "In the mornings, I open my eyes and think 'Is this real'' As time goes along, the grief, pain and horror are still there.
"But you have to learn to function and live through it. The way I do it is (in my mind) I take the grief, pain and horror, and fold it up and put it in a little bitty box and put the box in my pocket. I take it out sometimes."
For Charlie, the experience of losing his son has made him question everything about life.
"It's such a profound thing. It changes your outlook on life," he said. "You question the purpose of life and why we are all here. But you have to step back and put things in perspective.
"I draw my strength from my son. He was very strong, and very strong willed. His motto was 'Never, never give up.' That got him through Rangers. That got him through his tours in Afghanistan, and it's what all his brothers and sisters in arms believe in."
"I draw my strength believing he lived his destiny," Annette added. "It hurts. But I believe he lived out his destiny. His men thought so much of him. He mentored them. Several have visited his gravesite in Maple Hill Cemetery. I don't know why this happened. But I believe it's his destiny."
The family celebrates and honors Jeffrey's life every chance they get. On Memorial Day this year, they visited his grave. On Oct. 27, they attended a ceremony in the capitol building that honored the addition of 122 of Alabama's fallen Soldiers from the Global War on Terrorism to the state's veterans monument. Jeffrey was one of those names.
As part of her journey through living with Jeffrey's death, Annette, who is the executive secretary at the Huntsville/Madison County Airport Authority, hopes to start a Gold Star Mothers chapter.
She, Charlie and Allison are also appreciative of the work that Redstone's Survivor Outreach Services is doing to provide support to surviving families.
"That program is so important to families and I want to help with it," Annette said. "When you go through something like this, if you can connect with someone who has been through what you've been through, you can provide help like no one else can."
Annette received such support from the family of Spc. Andrew Chris of Huntsville, who died in combat operations in hostile enemy territory in Iraq on June 25, 2003.
"As Audrey grows up, we also want her to have friendships with other children of fallen Soldiers. Because it will be the same thing for her, nobody really knows what she is going through if they haven't gone through it," Annette said.
Jeffrey's mother is also working on a scrapbook that tells the story of her fallen son, her fallen Soldier.
"In the end, I hope Audrey will understand that even though her daddy left her to go to Afghanistan for the third time, he really did it for her and for Allison," she said. "He was trying to give them a safe place to live. He was trying to make the world safe for all of us."