One woman lost her husband aboard Flight 11 during the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Another received the news in April that her her son was killed while defusing a roadside bomb in Iraq. Now, they're organizing a special party at Gillette Stadium for families of troops killed or wounded.
The results of personal tragedies sometimes can send people into years of despair and sadness. For two women, their personal losses have been the motivation to reach out to all Massachusetts military personnel and their families.
Family members of any serviceman or woman who has been injured or killed in the line of duty in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan or who will be deployed over the holiday season are invited to a one of a kind event.
Gillette stadium in Foxboro will be the site of a Christmas party like never before Monday, Dec, 10, from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. With events planned for children, teens, and families and hopefully visits by Patriots and Red Sox players, the night promises to be a time to connect with others who are in a similar situation, as well as a time to just relax and have some fun
Christie Coombs, whose husband Jeff was killed aboard Flight 11 during the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and Mary Ellen Callahan, whose son Billy died while defusing a roadside bomb in Iraq last April, both had a similar idea when thinking about this holiday season.
“I knew what my Christmas was going to be like and I just wanted to put some smiles on their faces,” said Callahan, a Hanson resident. “I thought these families (of injured or deceased military personnel) needed a Christmas party. I thought they’re going to be having a tough Christmas.”
“Regardless if they’re gone permanently or just for this Christmas, it’s going to be difficult to get through (this holiday),” said Coombs of Abington. “Knowing what it’s like to have to experience what it’s like year after year without somebody very special, I wanted to do something.”
Clowns, face painting, balloon animals, a video game station, a massage center, a catered meal, toys and gifts and, of course, a visit from Santa are just some of the events planned for families that attend the free party. There also will be an information corner on what types of services are available to families and military personnel, as well as people to talk to about those services.
The two women heard about each other through a mutual acquaintance as well as media reports on what each has been doing. They contacted each other, and the two combined their ideas for one big party.
Coombs and her three children attended a similar event in December 2001, sponsored by New York City for families impacted by 9-11.
“It was a nice distraction for my kids who had lost their dad three months earlier,” Coombs said.
She said her children still talk about that party, and Coombs finally told idea of throwing a similar party for military families to a friend.
Callahan had been trying to get something off the ground, and was not having luck finding an organization that was interested in including the soldiers’ families in their events when she heard about Coombs’ plans.
“It was such a blessing because I was so discouraged,” Callahan said. “(Coombs) really wants to give back for what she feels is a huge sacrifice these kids are making as a result of 9-11.”
Coombs said many times when she reads stories about those who have joined the military or been injured or killed, quite often the reason for joining was because of 9-11.
“I feel this incredible twinge of guilt,” Coombs said. “Regardless of how anyone feels about the war, we’re supporting the men and women fighting it. It’s just a goodwill gesture on our part. We’re trying to put together something fun for the families.”
Both said the toughest part of the planning process has been to actually get the word out to families so they know this event is planned. There is no public master list of personnel or families of injured, deceased, or deployed soldiers for the women to turn to.
Callahan has been working with Senator Edward Kennedy’s office to find the names of injured or deceased soldiers, while Coombs has sent letters to all local veteran’s agents and many school superintendents, military newsletters, and church leaders across the state to get in touch with families of deployed servicemen and women.
“We’re hoping (each veteran’s agent) really steps up to the plate, knows their community and knows who in town should get an invitation,” Callahan said.
There also is the challenge of funding. While Patriots owner Robert Kraft has donated the use of the stadium facilities for the event and is supplying the catered meal at cost, Coombs said it still requires a lot of money to put together.
Many youth and school groups are trying to gather supplies to put in gift bags, and McDonald’s Corporation has donated gift cards to put in the children’s gift bags.‘The response to it has been really supportive,” Coombs said.
Callahan said Toys for Tots, run by the Marines, has committed to supply enough toys for all the children in attendance even while they are trying to gather toys for their organization this holiday season.
“The Marines are all deployed,” Callahan said. “The retired Marines are working and struggling to keep this going. The bins are empty.”
As of mid-November, 40 families comprised of 160 people said they are attending. The group is a cross-section of residents from a variety of towns, such as East Bridgewater, Mansfield, Middleboro, Foxboro and Westwood, as well as two families from New Hampshire and Connecticut who have relatives deployed with a Massachusetts-based unit.
If interested in either attending the party, making a donation, or getting more information, call Coombs at 781-982-1608 or E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Pre-registration by Saturday, Dec. 1, is required to attend the party.
Paula Vogler can be reached at 508-967-3515 or by E-mail at email@example.com.
- Avon (Mass.) Messenger