Katie Peterson | Staff Writer
“It is weird how God helps us remember something that we really need to remember when the times are the darkest, and I have gone through agony this past year,” said Sharon Stanchik, mother of Staff Sgt. Ryan Deming, who took his own life May 15, 2018. “There was one time Ryan and I were driving and (“I Can Only Imagine” by MercyMe) came on. I looked over at Ryan, he was about 18 years old, and he was crying.
“I said, ‘Well, what’s wrong, kiddo?’ He said, ‘Mom, I’m going to be on my knees when I see Jesus,’” she continued. “I needed to remember that Ryan was sure he was going to go to heaven and that he was humble enough to go and meet the Lord on his knees.”
Stanchik shared her story during the Survivor Outreach Services lantern launch Nov. 8.
She said she prayed all the way to the event because she didn’t know what to say since her son didn’t die in combat, but she said she was grateful when she found out how welcoming SOS was to her.
“You don’t know where you fit in the family,” Stanchik said. “One day Christina (Long, former SOS program manager), called me, and I said, ‘I’m just going to sit at Ryan’s grave.’ … She went and sat with me for like an hour or two. I’ve never in my life felt so received, unconditionally.
“My advice (to other parents) would be that (SOS) is going to call you, they are going to reach out, so pick up the phone,” she said. “Nothing starts until you do. They want to help us. … These people really are the only ones who understand me, and I thought they were going to be the last ones to.”
The lantern launch was originally scheduled in conjunction with the annual Oktoberfest Sept. 27 at Merritt Lake, but was cancelled because of the threat of severe weather. Garrison Commander Col. Harry Hung said it was fitting to have the event the weekend of Veterans Day.
“Today is a day of remembrance for the sacrifices of your loved ones,” Hung said. “We have all services represented — Army, Air Force, Navy and Marines — and the time, we span from 1969 and the Vietnam War, all the way to present conflict, as well as just those who have deceased on the homeland.”
After a gathering inside Hung’s home where each of the gathered families shared the story of their loved ones, they ate and decorated their lanterns before going to Merritt Lake to launch them.
“Sailing the lantern is just a way of the flow of life so to speak,” said Janice Downey, Army Community Service division chief. “It is a time with camaraderie with other families and sharing because being able to share their story, they never tire of it because it is their story, and it is their feelings.”
Debbie Murchison-Perri shared a story about her son Spc. Matthew Murchison, who was killed on Aug. 4, 2007, when the vehicle he was in struck an improvised explosive device in Baghdad. He was assigned to the 127th Military Police Company, 720th MP Battalion, 89th MP Brigade out of Hanau, Germany.
“Matthew was home in April (2007), so he sits on the recliner and he would say, ‘Mom, go get me some Dr. Pepper and some string cheese,’” Murchison-Perri said. “I said, ‘Matthew, you have legs. You can go get it.’ He said, ‘Mom, come on, I’m the family hero.’ Well, little did we know. He is definitely my hero.”
Other stories shared included that of Air Force Capt. Andrew Olberding, son of Duane and Betty Olberding. Andrew died on Feb. 22, 1996, one day after his 27th birthday, because of a car accident. At the time he was serving with the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe in Mons, Belgium. Having been one of two Air Force pilots chosen to train with the Navy, he was on his way to Brussels to meet with the naval command when his car hit black ice causing him to skid and hit a tree on the side of the road.
Betty Olberding said the lantern launch is a unique event.
“We’re with people that have similar circumstances. When your child is in the military, you don’t always get to see them, so it is different,” she said. “We were blessed because (Andrew) basically had a dream assignment to be at NATO where he got to meet a lot of good people.”