• Oktoberfest includes tribute to fallen

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  • Katie Peterson | Staff Writer
    More than 400 people experienced live polka music, food, hayrides and inflatable play areas during Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation’s annual Oktoberfest Sept. 28 at Merritt Lake.
    The food, provided by the Frontier Conference Center, included traditional German dishes such as schnitzel sandwiches, brathendl (roast chicken), bratwurst and Bavarian pretzels.
    The music was provided by the Jolly Dutchmen.
    Among the celebratory activities, attendees also experienced a tribute to fallen soldiers during Survivor Outreach Services’ annual lantern launch at dusk on Merritt Lake. The launch commemorated Gold Star Mother’s and Family’s Day, the last Sunday in September.
    “Surviving family members wanted to integrate this memorial tribute with Oktoberfest because they enjoy getting to interact with the Fort Leavenworth community,” said Christina Long, SOS program manager.
    “The fact that (the launch) is combined with the Oktoberfest, there are more people here to take part and experience the lantern launch and it will be a profound experience to see and observe and be a part of,” said surviving family member Karin Franson.
    Franson is the wife of Richard Franson, whose father, Tech Sgt. Leroy Franson, was killed in action on April 18, 1945, when his B-29 was hit head-on by a Japanese aircraft.
    “I think it is a good idea (to combine the events),” Richard Franson said. “It is a sad thing we’re doing, but, in a way, it is a celebration of their lives, too.”
    Richard Franson was only 6 months old when his father was killed, and for many years he didn’t know what happened to his father because his mother remarried.
    “(Leroy’s) name was never really talked about in the family since (Richard’s) mom remarried. So, (Richard) was never really able to grieve the loss of his father,” Karin Franson said.
    “This gives him an opportunity to get together, get acquainted, socialize and talk with people that have gone through similar things. Now, he’s able to go out and share with other people some common feelings and experiences whereas before he really kept that in.”
    This was the Fransons first year attending the event. Other first-time attendees were Lorrie and Timothy Vandruff, whose son Cpl. Lucas Frantz was killed in action Oct. 18, 2005, while in Mosul, Iraq, in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. It was his 22nd birthday.
    “It has been 13 years but it is still like yesterday,” Lorrie Vandruff said. “He had been one (who wanted) to be in the Army since he was in third grade because my dad was in the (Army National Guard) and he talked to him about it when he was little.”
    Page 2 of 2 - “He was a great son,” Timothy Vandruff said. “I raised him from 12 years old and up.”
    Some families have participated in the event for years, like Bob and Shirley Hemenway, whose son, Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Ronald Hemenway, was killed at the Pentagon during the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. This was their 10th year attending.
    “It is a great event, especially for the new folks coming,” Bob Hemenway said. “It is really good for them and it is a real close-knit community in general.”
    “It is nice to know that people understand what you’re going through,” Shirley Hemenway added.
    During the event, seven SOS families decorated lanterns with photos, mementos and decorations honoring their loved ones before launching the lanterns onto the lake. Each family was also able to speak one-on-one with Lt. Gen. Michael Lundy, commanding general of the Combined Arms Center and Fort Leavenworth.
    “Lieutenant General Lundy always does a great job of letting survivors knows that their soldiers are not forgotten and that the families are still part of the Army family,” Long said.
    Garrison Commander Col. Marne Sutten addressed family members just before the lanterns were launched onto the lake.
    For more information about SOS, call 684-2800.
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