Veteran’s Day is always a time of reflection in our home. We are a military family and the sacrifice for freedom is something we understand on a personal level.
My husband is an Air Force officer, commander and pilot. He has been “Air Force” since he first walked through the doors of the Air Force Academy 27 years ago in 1985. He has deployed countless times, flying the KC-135 Strato-Tanker in refueling missions all over the globe. He has always come home to me and that blessing is not lost on me. It is why every year, my heart is with those who have suffered such loss in sacrifice for our freedom and the freedom of those who can not fight for themselves.
My father-in-law, Gary Sr. is a decorated war hero who served three tours in Vietnam. He was gravely wounded and has spent his life overcoming the physical and emotional scars that his sacrifice left. But he is still with us. My kids have the privilege of knowing and loving their grandpa. That blessing is not lost on me either. It is why every year, my heart is with those who have come home broken in body, mind and spirit and why it is also with those who love them and are helping them fight their way “back”.
Today, though, my heart is also with Sonny, as it has been the last three years.
Sonny was my husband’s best friend in high school. He wasn’t a very big guy but he had huge personality and an even bigger heart. Larger than life. Sonny was a person so full of life that you couldn’t help but laugh whenever he was around. His real name was William but everyone called him “Sonny”, it was truly a fitting nickname. That is what I remember about Sonny – that and the Hawaiian Mess Dress shirt he wore under his uniform jacket at my wedding. That was so Sonny.
I also remember the day my husband told me he was gone.
We lost Sonny, CW5 Ret. William F. “Sonny” Hinchman, on July 17, 2009, in a helicopter crash just outside of Baghdad, Iraq. It was a Friday morning. He was 42.
Sonny had just retired the previous April after 25 years of service as a helicopter pilot flying Black Hawks, Cobras and Kiowas in the US Army. After retirement he returned to the Middle East to fly Kiowas for a private security company. It was a Kiowa he was flying that Friday morning.
Here is something else I want you to know about Sonny. All of the hours of flying gun ships, all of the dangerous missions, all of the years of service and I know without a doubt, one of the things he was most proud of was making a difference for the kids in war-torn Iraq. Sonny was part of a group of Kiowa helicopter pilots who started “Operation Soccer Ball”. These pilots took notice of the kids that would pick up rocks and hurl them at the helicopters whenever they flew over. Kids who were living through war, afraid, traumatized and angry. Kids very much in need of a little hope.
So, Sonny and a number of other pilots decided to start dropping soccer balls from their helicopters. Sonny told the story of one boy who was poised and ready to throw a rock at his chopper, a boy filled with hatred at all he thought that chopper stood for. When a soccer ball fell from the chopper, the boy dropped the rock, stood confused as he processed the moment and then grabbed the soccer ball and gave them the thumbs up and waved. It seems like such a small thing, a soccer ball, but that boy’s life was made better, perhaps even changed, for the brief moment Sonny was in it.
Thanks Sonny. Thanks for being someone my husband loved. Thanks for being someone I am proud to tell my kids about. Thanks for your heart and for your sacrifice.
We miss you.
May God Bless America and the men and women who have fought and died in her defense. May He be with those who continue to answer her call and with their families who sacrifice so much.