When Eddie Wood, a cavalry scout with the 171st armored Regiment, 10th Mountain Division, was killed along with his sergeant by an IED in Afghanistan July 5, 2010, life changed forever for his father Thomas. Three of his buddies were also wounded in the same explosion, one spending 16 agonizing months in recovery at Walter Reed Army Hospital.
Now Thomas, from Omaha, travels regularly throughout Iowa, bringing the healing power of pride and honor to those who have lost family members in the War on Terror.
Thomas carries the Remembering Our Fallen Wall of Honor to communities - such as Estherville this Sweet Corn Days weekend - to places where people can see, understand and appreciate the ultimate sacrifices of Iowans.
Thomas Wood hung photos of fallen servicemen and servicewomen on the wall.
Photo by Michael Tidemann
Wood said Bill and Evyonne Williams of Omaha, who also started Honor Flights in Nebraska, founded the Remembering Our Fallen traveling exhibit in Bellevue, Neb.
While Thomas never served himself, he tried. He went to ROTC and tried to enlist and passed everything except his hearing test. He still managed though to instill a fervent patriotism in his son.
Thomas fondly recalls how he and Eddie would do historical reenactments ever since the boy was 2. Lewis and Clark. The Civil War. All were great ways to relive history and to appreciate the contributions of those who came before us. He also used to take Eddie to Sioux City Airport where they would listen to the B-17s fly overhead.
After high school, Eddie wasn't really interested in college, so he joined the army, heading for boot camp October 2009. Eddie's bright, beaming, freckled, infectious smile on his boot camp graduation photo says it all. Eddie couldn't help but smile. It was permanently welded to his face.
Eddie planned on a three-year enlistment after which he planned to continue with college. He came home on leave after specialist training and Thomas took him to the airport on a Wednesday where he left for Afghanistan. It got hot right away, with firefights on Saturday and Sunday. An American sniper was isolated in a village in the action, so Eddie joined a convoy sent out to get him out. Eddie was killed on the way back and the sniper - whom they saved - was killed a week later. Eddie died on Monday - just five days after his father dropped him off at the airport.
"The Army did a great job," Thomas said of bringing his son home and helping the family work their way through their grief. They asked Thomas if he wanted to meet the plane when Eddie was returned to Dover Air Force Base in Maryland. He went.
"That was probably the most moving experience that I had," said Thomas. "It's really an amazing experience. The whole thing is."
"By the time Eddie's funeral was over I finally knew what he died for." Between 700-800 motorcycles accompanied the three-mile cortege of Presidential proportions on July 17, 2010.
"They just take this whole thing very seriously," Thomas said of the Patriot Guard Riders. "They're amazing guys."
When he meets with other Gold Star families talk often turns to current veterans affairs. Even though their loved ones are gone, they still consider themselves military families. Issues like PTSD and traumatic brain injuries strike a chord with the.
In his travels with Remembering the Fallen Thomas also finds a healing within himself by helping others with their grief.
"The effort to help families through it are pretty effective," he said.
When he meets other families who have lost a loved one, they often break into mutual silence.
"There isn't anything anybody can say. Most people just thank us. Nothing's every going to be the same. They're not gone as long as they're not forgotten."
And for him, the healing continues.
Just two months ago he got a medal Eddie had received from the Canadian government - the base where he was serving when he was killed was Canadian. Eddie's photograph is also on a traveling exhibit of the fallen in Canada.
"I couldn't be more proud of all these guys," Wood said of all servicemen and servicewomen. "The world loves the American fighting man."
When Thomas dropped Eddie off at the airport and learned his son had spent all his money, he gave him all the cash he had - a $10 bill. I don't need it, Dad, his son told him. Everywhere I go, everything's free. And that was true.
When Eddie was killed, he still had the bill in his shirt pocket.
A gathering was at the 10th Mountain Division headquarters at Fort Drum, N.Y. for families of Eddie's unit two weeks after they were killed. Thomas was talking to another father of a fallen soldier.
"He was just having one heck of a time," said Thomas.
And this is what he told him:
"These guys get memorialized. They get memorialized forever."