A year ago this week, an ambush in Iraq took the lives of two Vermont National Guardsmen and injured six others. Twenty-two-year old Army Specialist Alan Bean Jr. of Bridport was one of the soldiers killed in that attack.
As VPR’s Nina Keck reports, Memorial Day is no longer just any holiday for his parents.
(Keck) Kim Bean opens the front door of her small white ranch house and smiles an invitation.
(Voices) “Yeah, that’s alright … come on up. Hi, Lindsey. Hi, Samantha. (Dogs barking) Mitz! Montanna! Amy this is Dina. She’s the one who got all the clothes for Miranda. This is Heather and this is Gabriel. Hi, Gabriel.”
(Keck) People have been coming and going since Wednesday she says. Her friends and neighbors knew it would be a difficult time for the family and have made a point to stop by.
(Kim Bean) “It’s been a very tough week. This was the first anniversary, so you just weren’t sure how you were going to process the whole thing. I really am still not sure how I’m processing it.”
(Keck) Kim Bean says talking about her son Alan Junior — A-J for short — helps and she smiles as she pages through a photo album with her close friend Amy Farmer.
(Farmer & Kim Bean) (Laughter) That is hysterical. That was taken at Fort Dix. I can’t believe how red his hair was! Both the boys. Did you have red hair? And my dad did and my grandfather did. Yeah, it’s in the family. And he had the temper to go with it.” (Laughter)
(Keck) In addition to all the photos, the Beans put together a special cabinet in the living room to display their son’s medals and personal mementos.
(Kim Bean) “His purple heart, his bronze star, his medal of freedom, his flag, his army ring. This bear he gave me when he was in basic training and it’s very special. This little guy he gave me when he was in kindergarten.”
(Keck) Kim Bean looks at her son’s medals and says her heart breaks every time she hears about another death in Iraq. She thinks about all the other families going through what she has — the pain, denial and emptiness.
(Kim Bean) For the longest time, I thought that they were wrong and thought when the guys came back from Iraq, he’d come home with them. I went to the ceremony and that was a really tough day, because I just expected him to walk through that door and I think that’s when reality really set in of what really happened.”
(Keck) She closes her eyes briefly, but then smiles as she points to four toddlers playing on her living room floor, one of whom is her 14-month old grandson, Gabriel. Gabriel Alan was born the day his father landed in Kuwait and she says her son never got the chance to meet him. Mr. and Mrs. Bean say keeping A-J’s memory alive for little Gabriel, as well as for their other two children, is important and they say Memorial Day has taken on new meaning for all of them.
(Alan Bean) “Memorial Day just used to be a holiday. I mean, I know what it meant, but until it really hit close to you, I don’t think you actually can grasp the meaning of Memorial Day. It’s a special day for us. It gives us a chance to remember all those that gave their lives so that we could still be here.”
(Kim Bean) “This is a time that our whole family will now always be together just to remember. I know we will have people here all weekend long to just to be together and celebrate Alan’s life is the best way to put it.”
(Keck) Alan Bean says his son always loved a good party. He pauses and his eyes tear up. The last few years, he says, he and his son had more of a buddy relationship than a father son relationship and he misses the teasing, the wrestling and the wise cracks. Then he smiles and reaches into his shirt.
(Alan Bean) “I wear his dog tag every day.”
(Keck) Does it help?
(Alan Bean) “Yeah. Feels like a little part of him is still with me. There’s such a big hole in my heart.”
(Keck) The Beans say without the support of their friends and neighbors dealing with the loss of their son this week would have been much harder.
For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Nina Keck in Bridport.