By Terri Moon Cronk
DoD News, Defense Media Activity
WASHINGTON, May 23, 2015 – Speaking to families of fallen service members at the 21st annual Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors summit yesterday, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said he loves that the members were there, but doesn’t like how they got there.
Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey spoke at the organization’s National Military Survivor Seminar and Good Grief Camp for Young Survivors for the fourth straight year as they gathered for healing and comfort during the Memorial Day weekend event.
“I love the fact that you can gather once a year and find solace, friendship and camaraderie with each other,” Dempsey told them in a Crystal City, Virginia, hotel ballroom. “There really is something about ‘good’ grief that will not only help you get through the challenges ahead, but it also help us who are your mentors and friends and admirers.” Young Survivor Introduces Chairman
Just as she has for all of Dempsey’s appearances at TAPS summits, 8-year-old Lizzie Yaggy of New Orleans, introduced the chairman.
“I feel so happy at TAPS,” she began, “because people know how I feel, and we learn ways to deal with our grief. It’s not always easy, but we are stronger because of our TAPS family.”
Then she told the audience she was there to introduce “someone we love a lot.”
“He’s the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and a very important soldier,” Lizzie said. “General Dempsey always has time for us. He remembers our families; he hugs us and sings with us. He has a really great voice, and I love hearing him sing. Please welcome my friend, General Dempsey.”
The chairman noted Lizzie’s experience in introducing him. “But it’s quite a thing to be called her friend,” he added.
An Emotional Event
Dempsey is known for his propensity to break into song. “This is the event every year where I try to prove to myself that you really can sing with your heart in your throat,” he told the TAPS audience.
The first year he addressed TAPS, the chairman said, he didn’t know what to expect. When he walked in, he told the audience, he found the atmosphere “overwhelming,” and he added that it still is.
It was then that he met Lizzie, who then was 4 years old, Dempsey said. She was in a group of children gathered around him and asking him questions, he said.
“About three questions in, [Lizzie] asked me, ‘Is my daddy an angel?’ and I was stunned,” he said. “How do you answer that? I said, ‘Of course he is.’ But I broke into song. I have no idea why, except it was somewhat a survival thing for me, really. I just couldn’t deal with the emotion.”
Chairman Sings With Army’s ‘Downrange’
Keeping with his TAPS tradition, the chairman sang a series of songs yesterday, including Andy Grammer’s “Keep Your Head Up” and a medley with songs from the movies “Frozen” and “Big Hero 6.”
He was accompanied by singers with Downrange, a band of the U.S. Army Band, ‘Pershing’s Own.’”
The chairman followed up by singing “The Unicorn Song” for the children while his wife, Deanie, and Lizzie used gestures to help with the lyrics. He then answered questions from the children.
TAPS is a national organization that provides compassionate care for the families of America’s fallen military heroes. It has offered support since 1994 to more than 50,000 surviving family members of U.S. fallen military and their caregivers since 1994. The organization’s resources and free help are available 24/7 online, in person, and via its helpline at 1-800-959-TAPS (8277).