Nancy Hecker - Travel Consultant/Travel Writer
A DIFFERENT KIND OF JOURNEY
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A DIFFERENT KIND OF JOURNEY

Most of the writing that I have done previously has been about exciting tourism destinations and alluring travel opportunities, for I had a small business that specialized in operating group tours. As an Army wife who had traveled extensively during our years of service, this was a natural vocation for me, and one that I greatly enjoyed.

On January 5, 2006, however, my life changed dramatically.  Events of this day started me on a journey of a different kind.  It was new territory for me, but as I struggled to find my bearings, I also found a new voice.  I am now compelled to write about a far more personal trip, one that did not come with a detailed itinerary that tells me how to get to where I am going. This is a mystery tour of sorts, taking me down the difficult path of learning how to deal with the grief of losing a son in combat.

I write now not only about travel, but more importantly to offer a glimpse into the character of the brave men and women in our armed forces, and to give an understanding of the tremendous sacrifices our military families are sometimes called upon to make.

Our oldest son, Army Major Bill Hecker (37), was killed on that January day in An Najaf, Iraq along with four other outstanding soldiers from his unit in the 4th Infantry Division.  An IED exploded alongside their humvee as they were traveling in a convoy en route to inspect the progress of a school that was under reconstruction.  Just as in the movies, two decorated Army officers later showed up at our front door, and my painful odyssey began.

From a very young age, it was our sons calling to follow in his dad’s footsteps, to attend the United States Military Academy at West Point, and to become a soldier.  He set his goals and never wavered.  As he progressed through his military career, his interests and skills led him to become a scholar as well.  He earned a masters degree and became an instructor of English at West Point, edited a book on Edgar Allen Poe, and wrote and presented a number of academic papers.  But first and foremost, Bill was a soldier.  Before leaving for Iraq, he said to me with great conviction:  “Mom, I’m a soldier. This is what soldiers do.” 

Bill was more prepared for his journey than I was for mine.  His faith was strong.  He had taken care of financial matters to make sure his family would be well provided for in the event he did not return.  More importantly, he was completely devoted to his wife Richelle and to his four precious children.  He had given them a foundation of love that will endure forever.

Since that January day, we have had the opportunity to meet a number of other Gold Star Families.  They come from all over the United States and from many different backgrounds, but all whom we have met share a similar story.  One that reflects old-fashioned values, a pride in their lost loved one, and a very personal understanding that the freedoms we enjoy in this great country of ours are not free. 

It has been two years now since losing our son.  Together with my husband, we have charted a new course in our lives, guided by an inner compass that seemed to be speaking to our hearts.  Last spring I closed down my tour company, we sold our home in northern Virginia, said a tearful goodbye to our many friends in the area, and moved to Colorado Springs to be near our four grandchildren.  No doubt our son would some how sense that we would be here for his family, and would be comforted by that.  We are in essence the children’s connection to their father, and that bond is every bit as important to us as it is to them.  And while we never expected to be living in Colorado, clearly we are where we need to be right now in this mysterious journey called "life."

As I gaze out my window at the magnificent view of Pikes Peak, I am taken back almost forty years ago to when my husband was a Captain in the Army.  He was assigned to Ft. Carson, the mountain post located just south of Colorado Springs. It was here in 1968, at the old Army hospital, that our son was born and his incredible journey began.  Whether or not we were destined to return to this spot all these years later, I do not know.  I can say, however, that we are grateful for the time Bill did have to travel with us on this earth, and we will always remember him with great love and pride.  And while we will surely have a few more mountains to climb as we deal with the pain of our loss, we feel blessed that we are able to continue our journey with the gift of four precious grandchildren that Bill and Richelle gave to us!  Along with their mother, we will make sure that as they continue to grow in age and maturity, they will know and understand the wonderful legacy of love, commitment and service that their father left for them.   What better touchstone for them to use as they navigate their way on their own journey through life?

As I steal another glance out my window. I am reminded of the inspirational words penned by Katharine Lee Bates in 1893 when she visited the top of Pikes Peak.  In her poem later set to music, she writes:  “O beautiful for spacious skies, 
For amber waves of grain, 
For purple mountain majesties 
Above the fruited plain!” 
This is, of course, the first verse of “America the Beautiful.”  But I am drawn today to the third verse of this beloved song.

“O beautiful for heroes proved

 In liberating strife. 


Who more than self their country loved


And mercy more than life!”

How fortunate that throughout our history, we Americans have been blessed with the opportunity to proceed on our own individual journeys living in freedom and prosperity.  Without the brave men and women who have served in our Armed Forces over the last two centuries, this would not have been possible.  And so I write today not about the latest tourist destination or travel opportunity, but to honor my son and all our fallen soldiers who have given so much. It is important that we remember them always, with respect and gratitude.  

COMMISSION ON REMEMBRANCE


It's all about the journey and the friends you make along the way!  
This website is dedicated to my best friends who have traveled with me on my many tours, and more importantly on my journey through life!  Each one of you is a treasure to me!