Fallen Soldier’s Parents Attend Funerals, Deployments

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(Host) As National Guard soldiers deployed for service in Afghanistan in recent weeks, they’ve received a send off from hundreds of well wishers. 

Many who turn out at the deployment ceremonies are family and friends.  But some are people for whom the deployments bring back painful memories. 

They’re the parents of soldiers killed in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

VPR’s Steve Zind has this story of one such couple.

(deployment music)

(Zind)  Five years ago this month, at a large deployment ceremony in Essex Junction, Scott McLaughlin stood surrounded by loved ones as he prepared to ship out to Iraq with the Vermont National Guard’s Task Force Saber.

(Scott Mclaughlin) " My family.  My mom, my dad, my wife…"

(Zind) McLaughin’s mother, Vicki wore a big, bright yellow ribbon in her hair, so arriving friends and family could spot them in the crowd.  If her smile seemed a little forced, that was understandable.

(Vickie McLaughlin) "I’m very proud of my son, but at the same time, my heart aches. But I’m trying to be brave."

(Zind)  Six members of Task Force Saber died in Iraq.  Scott McLaughlin was one of them – killed eight months after he deployed.  McLaughlin was 29.   

There was a large funeral.  Officials from government and the military and people from around the state joined the McLaughlins to mourn Scott’s death.  His father Kevin doesn’t remember much from that time or the days that followed.

(Kevin McLaughlin) "At least a year with basically no memories at all.  The second year, very few.  Its pretty amazing how much of like just kind of disappeared."

(Zind)  One memory remains vivid, though.  Among those who came to Scott’s funeral were the parents of another Vermont soldier, Mark Dooley. 

Dooley had died in Iraq just days before Scott.  The McLaughlins were moved that Dooley’s parents, Peter and Marion, had overcome their own grief to comfort them.  Two months later when guardsman Mark Procopio was killed in Iraq.  The McLaughlins attended his wake.

(Kevin McLaughlin) "We were pretty nervous standing in line.  I got to Mark’s dad. I had no idea what they were going to think of us doing this.  I told him who we were. He threw his arms around me and said, ‘finally somebody who knows what I feel like!’"

(Zind)  The McLaughlin’s have attended the wakes or funerals of all the other Vermonters killed in the wars, and so have parents of other fallen soldiers.  These Gold Star families as they’re known, have a unique bond.   

(Kevin McLaughlin) "You can sit and talk and everybody knows exactly what you feel.  You can talk about your boys, whatever.  Everybody knows how you’re doing because they’ve gone through the same thing."

(Zind)  Last Christmas was the first one the McLaughlins have had a tree since Scott’s death four years ago.  But just as indelible as the painful moments are the happier ones recalling the kind of person Scott McLaughlin was. Twice a year family and friends get together to remember him – once on his birthday.

(Vicki McLaughlin) "Then the other time we get together is the day he died.  He loved his barbeque, so we like to have a barbeque.  And he always liked on his birthday to have strawberry shortcake.  So we still have strawberry shortcake on his birthday."

(Zind)  This month Vicki and Kevin McLaughlin attended another big guard deployment in the same building where they held the sendoff for Scott and his fellow soldiers.  Vicki wore a faded yellow ribbon in her hair.  The deployments are difficult for them, because of the memories they bring back.  They went, she says, because that’s what Scott would have wanted.

For VPR news, I’m Steve Zind.

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