- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 27, 2004

Ellen Andrews was just months from her wedding day when her fiance, Navy Lt. David Huber, was killed in a plane crash. “We were … at a point where we were planning our life together, and then all of a sudden everything was just shattered,” she said, recalling Lt. Huber’s death in a 1995 training accident. “At that point, you kind of assess life, and your hopes and dreams that you had for the future have suddenly been ripped away from you.”

Then Miss Andrews learned about Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS), a national nonprofit organization that supports the loved ones of those who die while serving their country.

TAPS this year celebrates the 10th anniversary of its founding by Bonnie Carroll after her husband, Brig. Gen. Tom Carroll, died in a November 1992 plane crash.

TAPS has helped people such as Miss Andrews, a business banking administrator in Panama City, Fla., come to terms with their grief and enabled them to help others do the same.

“If there is one thing I could say that TAPS has done for me … is that it allowed me to realize that there is hope for the future,” she said. “Being in contact with other people who had had the same thing happen and had been able to survive … it gave me some hope that I was going to be able to make it through.”

Miss Andrews now facilitates an online chat (at www.taps.org) and acts as master of ceremonies for the organization’s annual seminar for surviving families. This weekend’s seminar in Arlington is open to families that wish to participate, Mrs. Carroll said.

The core of this organization, Mrs. Carroll said, is the hundreds of volunteers who answer the phone at the 24-hour help line (800/959-TAPS), provide community resources, and serve as peer mentors — older survivors matched with callers new to TAPS.

“We help partner them up with other people who are going through these experiences,” said Brian Bauman, a senior volunteer who lost his father, a career naval officer, when he was 17. “Survivors help other survivors heal, and they move on to a process of helping one another and eventually moving forward in their lives.”

Karen Burris called TAPS in the middle of the night after she learned her husband, Maj. Andrew Burris, had died in a 1997 training accident. “I was just desperate, and I just really didn’t think I was going to make it to the next day,” she said. “I think it was two in the morning that I called TAPS, and I talked to Brian Bauman. He just got me through the night.”

“She was really questioning whether she wanted to go on with her life,” Mrs. Carroll said. “I think it is just so critical that TAPS is there, that an organization exists for people who are real American heroes, whose families have given the ultimate sacrifice for this country.

“You talk to people that you’ve known all your life, but in circumstances like this they probably don’t know what to say to you,” Mrs. Carroll said. “But someone who has gone through something similar, when they say they understand, they really do. And that is tremendously comforting.”

TAPS raises money through donations and fund-raisers. A fund-raising race was inspired by Marie Campbell, who ran a marathon in honor of her husband after he was killed by a truck bomb in Saudi Arabia.

The war in Iraq, Mrs. Carroll says, has provided challenges to the organization, which now has to help more people with the same amount of funding.

“I think people assume in the general public that programs like this are supported by the government,” she said. “But this is entirely a private organization that is made up of the families.”

“We have a lot more calls coming in and a lot of families to work with and to help,” said Joyce Harvey, the TAPS national director of peer support, whose daughter Jennifer died in 1995 while serving in the Marine Corps. She said this weekend’s seminar would be the group’s largest ever.

Deb Meyer, of South Bend, Ind., lost her stepson, Jason, in Iraq. He died April 7, 2003, in Baghdad, just after his 23rd birthday. She learned about TAPS on the Internet. The organization flew her, her husband, Loren, and son Chris to Arlington for last year’s seminar.

“I don’t know who sponsored it,” Mrs. Meyer said. “They flew us out and they paid for the seminar and our hotel stay.” She and her son still keep in touch with friends made there, she said.

“It’s not easy when it’s a military death, especially in the situation when … the thing that has caused the death is still ongoing and we’re still seeing, on a daily basis almost, casualties,” Mrs. Meyer said. “And we’re grieving with those parents whenever someone’s killed.”

It also stays on her mind since Chris, 15, has joined Marine Corps JROTC and her other son, Jonathan, is a member of the Indiana National Guard.

Jonathan’s service, she said is in part a tribute to Jason, who joined the Army on Sept. 10, 2001, a day before the terrorist attacks. When a knee injury two weeks before his deployment almost kept him from going to Iraq, Mrs. Meyer said, Jason persuaded his superiors to send him anyway.

Miss Andrews said she still has proud memories of her fiance who died nine years ago.

“The least we can do is when they have made the ultimate sacrifice to be there for the loved ones that they have left behind,” she said. “If I can be some help to them, then I feel I am honoring David.”

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