SPRINGTOWN -- Seven years ago, there was no Veterans' Park in Springtown, a small town in Parker County.
Rhonda and Bill McRae started one. They had to do something with all that hurt.
"You can either wallow in your sorrow and feel sorry for yourself, or you can get busy and do something," said Rhonda McRae, recalling the day a Marine notification team came. She had talked with her son just hours before.
Veterans’ Park began as an idea to honor Corporal Heath McRae. He was killed with two other Marines when an IED blew up their Humvee in July 2007. A Marine in the next vehicle died, too.
We talked to the McRae family back then. On a table at the funeral home, they spread out pictures of Heath like a puzzle that could never be solved.
In a trembling voice, his sister read a statement.
“For to have given his life for something that seems to have no resolution or purpose leaves us with a cold and empty feeling inside,” Amy Styles read. On getting news of her brother’s death, she miscarried.
Now the McRaes watch as extremists overrun ground soaked with American blood, and feel just as helpless as they did seven years ago. According to casualty statistics, of the more than 4,000 Americans who died in Iraq, nearly one in ten came from Texas.
"What can we do?” Bill McRae asks. “What can we do? The only thing we can do is put troops there for 50 years. Can we do that everywhere there is a problem?"
The McRaes discovered they can do something: Honor the more than 50 men and women Springtown has sent to Iraq and Afghanistan. Their names used to be listed on a wooden sign on the Springtown square. The old sign is gone.
The idea now is to etch names in large granite slabs. The polished stones stand behind a bronze cast of a soldier’s boots, helmet, and rifle.
The names of Heath McRae and National Guard Sgt. Luke Mason are listed as the two Springtown men who didn’t return from Iraq.
But Veterans' Park is for the living. White concrete benches sit beneath oaks on a lawn the city keeps as green and neat as a putting green.
"It evolved into recognizing the sacrifice of all these veterans," Bill McRae said.
Springtown donated the land. Granite, flags, and all the rest came from church dinners, auctions, and sponsors. It’s a place to show gratitude with a wreath or a prayer.
The McRae's are grateful for something else, too.
On Memorial Day, they got a visit from Juan Robles, the sergeant who was sitting next to Corporal McRae. In all these years, they had never met him face-to-face. He spent the night in their home.
"It was wonderful to speak to someone who we know heard our son say his last words, and could tell us exactly what happened," Rhonda said.
It made them feel better. So does the park; a place that is there only because their son cannot be. A place where Amy Styles’ daughter can learn about her uncle.
When Amy gave birth six years ago, she named her child “Faith,” for the Marine motto, “Semper Fidelis.”