"We have the remains of Corporal Brock Bucklin on board, and his twin brother Corporal Brad Bucklin has accompanied him home from Iraq. As a sign of respect, please remain seated while we honor Corporal Bucklin and his sacrifice," requested the pilot over the intercom, as the plane landed.
I watched through the plane window as the flag-covered casket was removed from the rear cargo hold. I saw Corporal Bucklin's family meet the procession with tears streaming down their cheeks. And I choked back emotion as I saw the soldier's young son being held by his grandmother.
As an F-16 fighter pilot, member of the Oklahoma Air National Guard and veteran of Iraq, I had experienced the harsh reality of war, but I had never witnessed the devastating reality back home.
From that moment, came a powerful belief that while we cannot change the fate of the fallen solider, what we can change is the future of a grieving widow or parentless young child. That belief became an organization, Folds of Honor Foundation, with a mission to honor the sacrifices of the fallen and ensure no military families are left behind. We do this by providing scholarships and other assistance to educate their legacy, ease the financial burden and seek to inspire the nation in support of those who have served and sacrificed for our nation.
This Memorial Day, it is not only appropriate, but imperative that we remember the other causalities of service: military families. Their needs are great. Thousands of soldiers have been killed or wounded in ongoing military operations, Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom. According to a recent study by the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, 87 percent of families of killed or wounded service members do not qualify for Veterans Administration federal educational benefits. This represents more than 240,000 family members.
Since the Foundation began shortly after that fateful day on the plane, we are providing 2,011 scholarships with the support of thousands of everyday Americans and companies like Budweiser, the PGA of America and Bushnell, who have created dedicated campaigns to encourage consumers to join our mission to leave no family behind on the battlefield.
As Americans we are all united by the freedoms we enjoy. And thus we are also bound in a collective duty to salute the sacrifices of those who protect those freedoms. There is no more fitting tribute than providing for the futures of the wives, husbands and children they leave behind.
As for Corporal Brock Bucklin's family, his son, Jacob, was the first recipient of a Folds of Honor scholarship.
Follow Major Dan Rooney on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@FoldsofHonor