Golf tournament helps heroes’ widows

SPRING LAKE

Owen lost her husband, Staff Sgt. Michael Owen, when he was killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq in 2004.

On Wednesday, his legacy as a soldier and a husband was witnessed by more than a hundred participants of a charity golf tournament.

The tournament benefited The American Widow Project, a nonprofit organization that provides a support network for military widows. The group was formed by Taryn Davis after her husband, Cpl. Michael Davis, was killed in May 2007 when a roadside bomb exploded in Iraq.

At the time, Davis was a 21-year-old college senior in Texas. She didn’t live near a military base and had no support structure to cope with her loss, she said.

While her friends were concerned with where the next party was, Davis was wondering where and how she should scatter her husband’s ashes, she said.

Four months after her husband’s death, Davis formed The American Widow Project. The grass-roots organization has drawn hundreds of widows to events across the country.

Davis said the group is more than military spouses commiserating and feeling sorry for each other. It focuses on helping widows get on with their lives while ensuring their husbands’ legacies live on.

“We’ve all got the same knock on the door,” she said. “You feel bad enjoying life, laughing and smiling. But it’s important for us to see that we can live life again.”

Today, the group plans to jump out of a plane with the Army’s Golden Knights. Past outings included surfing lessons and tubing trips.

The organization’s Web site, www.awp.staging.wpengine.com, has attracted more than 700,000 visitors in less than two years, Davis said.

The Web site is an outlet for sharing their stories as well as a resource for widows to know what to expect in the years following their loss.

The American Widow Project has received national media attention. A story earlier this year by ABC’s Bob Woodruff led to Wednesday’s charity tournament.

Scott Birchfield is with The Pantry Inc., a Sanford-based company that owns and operates Kangaroo gas stations. The company had been looking for a charity to support and the story by Woodruff caught his attention.

“Most of our shoppers aren’t soldiers,” he said. “It’s the family of the military. Many of our employees are wives of soldiers themselves, so this hits home.”

Birchfield contacted Davis and soon began organizing the tournament, which he hopes to make an annual event.

He said many of the vendors The Pantry works with jumped at the opportunity to support the cause. Some supplied prizes or sent teams to the event, which attracted about 120 players with many traveling from out of state.

Other sponsors paid for a number of Fort Bragg soldiers to participate.

All-told, Birchfield said he hoped to raise more than $12,000 for the group after the event’s costs are covered.

The money will be used, in part, to repair the group’s RV, which was recently used for a tour in which volunteers visited widows across the nation at their homes. The engine died in Washington, D.C.

But more important than the funding, members said, was keeping their husbands’ legacies alive.

Individual husbands were honored at 17 of the holes. The remaining hole was dedicated to all servicemen who have died.

Owen, who lives in Fayetteville and is a third-grade teacher at E.E. Miller Elementary School, was moved by the thought of each of the tournament’s participants taking the time to stop and learn something about her late husband.

“Just to see it.,” she said. “To some people it’s not much, but to know people are seeing it.”

When she first saw the placard, Owen crouched to get a better look at the tribute to her husband. When approaching golfers learned who she was, they thanked her for Michael Owen’s sacrifice.

Instead of highlighting the soldiers’ deaths, the placards focused on their lives.

Michael Owen was a man who loved NASCAR, surfing and traveling. Owen included a picture of the couple at Talladega Superspeedway and mentioned their fondness for driving along the beaches of North Carolina.

Davis said the widows were encouraged to mention their spouse’s likes, quirks and anything else that made them unique.

“We want them to know the person behind the uniform,” Davis said.

When Michael Owen was killed in 2004, there was no organization like The American Widow Project, Owen said.

“In 2004 there wasn’t anything,” she said. “It was August 2005 before I met another widow.”

Davis said the organization was spawned out of an obvious need.

She said volunteers and others who help the organization were doing a great service for their nation.

“Anybody can wear a yellow ribbon or put a flag outside their door, but it’s the ones who are there after the funeral is over that make a difference,” she said.

Staff writer Drew Brooks can be reached at brooksd@fayobserver.com or 486-3567.

Source: http://www.fayobserver.com/Articles/2009/06/25/912419

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