• Oktoberfest mixes fun with remembrance

    • email print
  • Katie Peterson | Staff Writer
    Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation sponsored the annual Oktoberfest Sept. 29 at Merritt Lake. The event included traditional German food provided by the Frontier Conference Center with beverages provided by Grinder’s High Noon, plus hayrides, inflatable play areas, tractor pulls and polka music performed by The Jolly Dutchmen.
    “It’s so family friendly with the bounce houses, and the German music is amazing and having the live band has been a lot of fun,” said Maj. Brian Smith, Command and General Staff College student.
    Smith attended the event with his wife Nikki and their two children. The whole family was dressed in traditional German lederhosen and dirndl dresses.
    While Oktoberfest is a fun and festive event for families to attend, for the past eight years, with the help of Survivor Outreach Services, the event has included a lantern launch at dusk for families to remember their fallen family members.
    “It’s another opportunity to share with others and be with everybody,” said Janice Downey, chief of Army Community Service. “It incorporates the fun part of it and memorial part of it so that all those attending can watch and see, and all those that are honoring their loved ones get to share their story with a group of people versus just themselves. It allows others to honor their families with them. It makes it special.”
    Smith said it was a good combination of the two celebrations.
    “I think it’s pretty awesome,” he said. “It brings different aspects all together. It’s a little bit of a celebration but also more of a celebration for their lives with the lanterns so it ties together really well.”
    Lt. Gen. Michael Lundy, commanding general of the Combined Arms Center and Fort Leavenworth, addressed the surviving families in an informal private setting during the event.
    “You’re part of our family. You’re part of the fabric of our nation’s armed forces,” Lundy said. “We’re very grateful for your sacrifices. Less than 1 percent serve and even less make the ultimate sacrifice and you’re a part of that.”
    Debbie Austin, whose son, Pfc. Shane Austin, 1st Battalion, 35th Armored Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division, was killed in Iraq on Oct. 8, 2006, expressed just how lucky the surviving families felt with the SOS team on post.
    “It’s as simple as the monthly lunches. It’s not about people feeling sorry for us. It’s just about fellowship with the other families and especially the new families that are coming in who have just lost a loved one, to let them know once they meet those of us who have been a few years out they can see that it might be a struggle some days but you will survive to keep the legacy of your loved one alive,” Austin said.
    Page 2 of 2 - The lantern launch is one of the ways Austin feels her son’s legacy can live on.
    “It’s powerful; it lets us know our loved ones are not forgotten. It’s emotional, and we’re proud because our memories live on, and that’s the worst thing that worries us is the fact that our loved ones will be forgotten. Doing things like this, they’re not forgotten.”
    Doris Torres, mother of Pfc. Omar Torres, 2nd Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, who was killed in Iraq on Aug. 22, 2007, expressed gratitude for the adding of the lantern launch to the festival.
    “It’s nice to know that with this festival there is always remembrance where they would honor all of the young men and women who have given the ultimate sacrifice for their country,” Torres said. “It tells the general population to just take note that the world is a much bigger place than just me, myself and I. It’s just nice to know that at a festival there is room to take others into consideration.”
    Torres said it gives unity and companionship among the mothers, too.
    “As I get together with the other moms, there’s that common thread that all of our sons have,” Torres said. “It’s festivals and happy days like this when us moms (are) alone and the grieving overwhelms us and we can’t continue on, it’s days like this and people just saying ‘Hi, how are you’ and ‘Tell me a little bit about your son’ that gets us through. It’s twofold — reverence to our son and gives us strength when no one’s around.”
    Brendale Taylor said the support of the SOS staff made her feel worthy after she lost her husband, Staff Sgt. Melvin Taylor, in 2010 while he was serving in Afghanistan.
    “To me it means you have people that really care about you even after your spouse, my main sponsor is gone. It’s more to it than me being at home taking care of the kids, paying the bills. When he left I thought I wasn’t nothing because I was me because of him,” Taylor said. “It just made me feel worthy by SOS sponsoring this for me. I feel valuable, and the folks that work there, they really care about us. They make me feel like I’ve got more than my immediate family. I’ve also got them as a family.”
  • Comment or view comments