From the desk of Julaine Appling, WFA president:
Last Friday evening I was speaking to a group in Superior, Wisconsin. I finished my presentation and the emcee asked if there were any questions. A lady raised her hand and asked, “What do you say to us who are grandparents about what we can do to make sure our grandchildren know the truth about America and have the right values instilled in them?” My response began with, “First, don’t give up. Keep trying. Even when it seems it’s not working, keep trying.”
After everything was concluded, a gentleman came up to me and said, “Thank you for telling us not to quit. I have to tell you a story that proves your point.” As I listened, I noticed this gentleman had a pin on his shirt—a small decorative gold pin with a dark blue background and a gold star in the center of that background. I had seen the pin earlier, but wasn’t sure what it represented. I was about to find out.
Bruce Vrooman proceeded to tell me about his son Jeremy. Jeremy had had a tough time growing up. His mom and dad divorced, which his father admitted was hard for Jeremy. Then his dad, who had custody of the children, remarried. Another adjustment for Jeremy. His step-mom Sue took Jeremy in as one of her own, but it was still tough. As his dad told me the story, he said all along the way, we just kept working with him and loving him. We never gave up. It was always too soon to quit. He was our son. We loved him; we wanted the best for him. We knew we needed to help him every way we could.
Things got to the point where some outside help was needed, all part of the “tough love” of his dad and step-mom. Shortly after graduating from high school Jeremy enlisted in the Army, a branch of the military he had long admired.
Jeremy became a Cavalry Scout and eventually a Staff Sergeant. Along the way, he married and by 2007 had two children. In June of 2008, he was deployed with his unit to Iraq. On July 15, 2008, Jeremy was leading a mission to clear twelve buildings. He made the decision that he should be the first to enter the building his team of 3 had been assigned. The building was booby-trapped and exploded, killing 28 year-old Staff Sergeant Jeremy Vrooman.
With a choked voice, Jeremy’s dad said, “We never gave up. We kept loving him and encouraging him. In the Army, Jeremy showed us who he really was.” Jeremy Vrooman was credited with saving the lives of at least 59 other soldiers and has been post-humously honored multiple times, as well as having a military funeral with the highest honors. Numerous high-ranking military personnel who had known Jeremy spoke at various memorial services giving praise for the man and the soldier Jeremy had been.
Bruce Vrooman said as we finished our conversation, “Please keep telling people to not give up on their children. The end of the story isn’t written.” With tears in my eyes, I thanked Bruce for not giving up and for telling his son’s story. It’s really a story of multiple heroes…certainly Jeremy is a hero, but so are his dad and step-mom who refused to give up on their son. Suddenly, I realized the pin this father wore proudly on his shirt was a Next of Kin Killed in Action pin. It’s a hero’s pin.