There is nothing anyone can do to replace a loved one that is gone. The Gary Sinise Foundation, however, has done everything they can to give 650+ families of fallen heroes a trip to remember.
Families fly in on special flights Saturday morning joining with many other families who share this common, though never desired, bond. They are greeted on Disney property by music, applause, characters, activities, and resources.
Then the fun begins! Families had the opportunity to go to the Animal Kingdom while it was closed to all others. Then they had a park day to hop and ride, eat and laugh. Many families chose Hollywood Studios because of the new Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. Some of the families even got to ride Rise of the Resistance without a boarding group! In each of the parks, volunteers were stationed to help families have the best time possible.
Their final day at Walt Disney World is the most special. Before sunrise families board busses to have a special morning in the Magic Kingdom.
Before coming to the Magic Kingdom, family members wrote notes on scrolls to their fallen family member. These notes were collected before the families entered for something special later in the morning.
Once inside, families had a time of remembrance with Gary Sinise and the Voices of Liberty. The national anthem was a particularly emotional and beautiful time. After a few words, Gary led the families down Main Street to Cinderella’s Castle. This, however, was no ordinary stroll.
The street was surrounded by hundreds of Disney cast members applauding, waving, high-fiving, and cheering so loud that the children couldn’t help but smile. Disney also let it “snow” for the families as they made the walk to the castle.
Once they approached the castle Mickey Mouse came on stage with Gary Sinise to tell them just how amazing they are. Family members had all been given a bell to ring for a large portion of the presentation to show their thoughts and hearts were still with the fallen hero.
The sound of all the ringing along brings tears could bring tears to your eyes.
All of the scrolls were placed in a large celebratory bowl and then became the center of the display. Fireworks danced all around the bowl and then the castle as children’s voices were heard telling their parents how much they missed them and wished they could’ve been on this trip with them. The fireworks and production were simply beautiful.
Families hugged, cried and took many pictures to remember this moment. Then it was off to an amazing day in the Magic Kingdom highlighted by a morning dance party with Mickey Mouse and the graduating senior children leading the Festival of Fantasy Parade.
In the final evening, Gary Sinise and his band treated the families to a concert at Epcot. Although many of them had to leave early the next morning, the families stayed a little longer just to be in the place where others understood them and the magic was real for just a little longer.
If you want to give back to veterans, first responders, and families like these the Gary Sinise Foundation is constantly blessing families who have served. Here is a link to give: https://www.garysinisefoundation.org/donate/.
Thank you Gary for allowing me to play a small role in volunteering and getting to meet these incredible people!
Julie de la Fé
Blessed beyond measure.
Photo Source: Gary Sinise Foundation