At midnight, Laura Herzog bought a textual content.
The group of Marines she was with needed to go to Waffle Home. Upfront of a fallen Marine sergeant’s funeral, she and the Marines from the bottom in Twentynine Palms had traveled to Florida and have been staying at a lodge in Tampa.
They ordered meals and joked round a bit, however primarily, they spoke about their good friend.
Herzog listened. She provided recommendation and compassion and recommended the group on what to anticipate on the funeral the following day.
“It’s been very emotional,” Herzog stated, reached by telephone that evening. “We laughed, we cried. I sat up with them. They speak in confidence to me and I’m honored to be right here for them.”
For 12 years, Herzog, 49, of Backyard Grove, has been there when a army service member has died, providing assist and help to these left behind. She calls them “hero missions.”
She based Honor Our Fallen, which aids each Gold Star households and the army casualty help officers assigned when there was a demise. That features serving to with transportation, working with native police and fireplace departments to coordinate procession routes and connecting with funeral houses and cemeteries to make sure service members are handled honorably. She additionally ensures the general public is aware of concerning the procession to line the streets in tribute and Patriot Guard escorts are in place.
In some circumstances, similar to Herzog’s latest journey to Florida, it contains accompanying the casket aboard a industrial flight and aiding the Marine escorts whose job is to safeguard the service member.
In all, Herzog stated she’s served 1,000 households. And, it doesn’t matter if the service member died in fight, a civilian accident, a coaching accident or by suicide, she’s there for every household.
In Might, when Wallace Gregory Mitchell, a seaman first-class within the U.S. Navy, lastly returned residence after nearly 80 years, Herzog made positive he obtained the popularity a fallen hero deserves. Via developments in DNA know-how, Mitchell had lastly been recognized among the many useless of the united statesS. Oklahoma following the assault on Pearl Harbor and his household in south Orange County was laying him to relaxation. Herzog organized for regulation enforcement and firefighters to salute Mitchell from overpasses on the route from John Wayne Airport to a Laguna Hills mortuary and for an honor motorcade to accompany him.
Earlier this 12 months, when 13 Individuals died whereas offering safety on the Kabul airport as U.S. forces withdrew from Afghanistan, 10 of these got here from a Camp Pendleton battalion, together with three who have been raised in Southern California. Herzog helped prepare processions and was there for the grieving, together with their commanding officer.
Simply 12 months earlier, she labored with Marine casualty officers and households when 9 males died after their amphibious assault car sank throughout a coaching train off San Clemente Island. Three of the Marines got here from Southern California.
First Sgt. Anthony Charette served as a casualty officer for the household of Cpl. Ceasar Villanueva, of Riverside. Casualty officers notify households of the demise of their liked one and assist with mortuary affairs and funeral honors, together with army advantages and entitlements.
“She is nothing in need of superb,” Charette stated of Herzog. “Her expertise and experience turned duties into superb outcomes.”
When the stays of the 9 males have been recovered from the sunken AAV and brought to Dover Air Power Base, Herzog helped with the logistics in returning the California boys residence.
“We’re grateful for all that she has achieved for us when our beloved son handed away final July 30,” stated Evelyn Baltierra of Corona, mom of Pfc. Bryan Baltierra, 18. “Her dedication and dedication to assist ease our ache and be by our aspect when our son’s casket arrived from Dover is significantly appreciated. She has used her life in a method that blesses so many others.”
Herzog stated she acknowledged a spot in what the army offered by way of its casualty officers and what was wanted by the households following a demise. Earlier than beginning her group, she was a public affairs officer for the Joint Forces Coaching Base in Los Alamitos, however misplaced her job throughout cutbacks.
Herzog stated that the casualty officers typically come from out of state and will not be accustomed to getting round Southern California or have the required civilian contacts.
“They’ve a lot on their plate, there’s a lot on the civilian aspect to assist,” she stated.
“Once I began Honoring Our Fallen, I knew I discovered what God needed me to do,” Herzog stated. “I deliver calm to their chaos.”
What it takes
Herzog stated she formulates her course of as she sees the necessity. She is aware of when to achieve out, when to step again, when to console and when to be blunt.
Within the case of the 20-something-year-old Marines she traveled to Florida with, she resorted to her personal expertise as a mom and grandmother. She has 4 youngsters and three grandchildren.
“I clarify I’ve been doing this a very long time,” she stated. “I salt and pepper and do it sluggish and regular. They find yourself calling me Mama Bear. I’m not their boss or household. I’m their safeguard.”
Herzog admits the fixed grief takes its toll and she or he talks with a therapist for her personal self care. However she doesn’t think about her efforts – usually coming back-to-back – a sacrifice, particularly within the wake of the sacrifices the households and repair members she serves have made.
And, her household helps make her work simple as a result of they embrace what she does.
“I get requested no less than as soon as a day, typically much more, ‘How do you do that,’” she stated. “I don’t do it. God does it. I simply present up. I do what I can to assist them on the darkest day of their lives. I do what I hope they’d do for me.”
On the latest Florida journey, that assist included letting the Marines play spades in her lodge room and watching a UFC struggle with them and getting them to journal tales about their good friend, Marine Sgt. Anthony Muhlstadt, 23.
“I don’t assume lots of people would have been capable of be there for these varieties of guys,” Lance Cpl. Devyn Dockery stated. Muhlstadt, a machine gunner, was Dockery’s car commander; each have been stationed at Twentynine Palms. “I really feel like I may name her tomorrow at 1 a.m. and discuss, and I simply met her final week.”
Herzog made the tragedy bearable for the eight Marines who flew to Florida to verify their brother made it residence safely, he stated.
“Every thing leads as much as the funeral and the honors,” Herzog stated. “They needed to keep exhausting and powerful. Identical factor with the households.”
For Tanya Mort, mom of Sgt. Muhlstadt, Herzog eliminated her burdens, Mort stated.
“Discuss a blessing!” Mort stated. “She was ensuring they have been following process and that every little thing went the best way it was speculated to go. She dealt with all the main points, and she or he liked on me. It allowed me to grieve with out worrying about all the opposite individuals.”
“She has a tattoo on her foot that claims Mama Bear,” Mort added. “Wow, if that’s not the reality.”
However Herzog’s help reaches past the instant household and pals.
Capt. Geoff Ball, the commanding officer of the corporate of Marines from the 2nd Battalion/1st Marine Regiment killed in Kabul, met Herzog whereas attending funerals of his fallen Marines in Southern California – she was a shoulder even he may lean on as he navigated by way of the devastating loss and met with the households.
“There’s this girl with all this compassion and power,” Ball stated. “She isn’t about speaking, however doing. She underpromises and overachieves. She is just like the fairy godmother of the corporate.”
“What you see is what you get, and what you get is lots,” he added. “It’s simply this limitless compassion. Whenever you see individuals like that, it’s very inspiring.”
Herzog additionally units up retreats for Gold Star moms and wives and stated she plans to develop her charity throughout all 50 states.
Aleta Bathtub, whose son, Pfc. Evan Bathtub was killed within the AAV sinking, hadn’t met Herzog till she went to Catalina in March on one of many retreats.
Among the many actions that weekend was parasailing. At first, Bathtub stated, it was troublesome, however Herzog helped her by way of it.
“To face there with angel wings on my again and maintain the flag over the identical ocean Evan died in was so exhausting, however she didn’t let me again out of it,” Bathtub stated.
Bathtub stated she was in a ship with two different moms whose sons had died in numerous methods, however who understood the symbolism.
“Once I bought down, one of many moms simply held me,” she stated. “She didn’t say a phrase and held on tight.”
Due to the retreat, Bathtub stated she now has a group of assist from others who perceive.
“She purposefully put totally different individuals collectively as a result of she desires to construct a group for you,” Bathtub stated. “It doesn’t matter how your little one died; if it was by suicide, an accident, or a coaching accident, we’re all the identical as a result of it was army.”
“Her coronary heart is larger than she is; I don’t know the way it matches inside her physique,” Bathtub stated. “There’s actually nobody like her.”