In The Beginning: The drive home after we picked up Lt Helton at the airfield, and again when we drove to his final resting place in Canton, Georgia, is an image that is permanently burned in my memory. The numerous people who stood on the side of the road under umbrellas waiting for him to come home; the motorists who not only stopped on the highway to let us pass, but who got out of their car and stood in the rain as he went by; the kids with parents waving flags; the man on the back of his truck with his sign, the many marquees along the way bearing Joseph's name; the flags, the support, the show of love and respect for a son, a family member, a friend, a stranger. We are Americans and we stand United. It is what my Joseph gave his life for. And he is not alone.
The support continued to come to us via platters of food, cards, hugs, and even money.
We, as a family, had no idea what to do with the money, but we felt it needed to be used for “something”. It was the late(ret. col) Larry Hoff (Lt Helton’s AFJROTC Commander) and (ret. col) Denny “Dinny” Keegan’s (Lt Helton’s USAFA Sponsor) idea to erect a memorial. Although many spoke of the impact Lt Joseph Helton had had on their lives, I truly believed that time would move on, and the interest would wane.
We placed money in an account, incorporated the Foundation and applied for not-for-profit status. This was finally received on September 13 of 2013, while most of the family was in Tampa at the annual Helton Haul event (some may remember 13 was Joe’s number).
Upon returning home from the run in Tampa, I stood in my kitchen and almost cried. Not for the reason you think, but because I had no idea of where to start. It had been so long, and so many people were at another place in their lives. So I started with the website. I would soon find out “We’ll never forget” is not just a saying among the military family and those who knew Joseph.
Within minutes of posting the site, I was contacted by Ssgt Danielle Dao stating she wanted to do a ruck where she was stationed overseas. A week later Steven Cary committed to putting together a run in Monroe in 2014 to mark the 5th year of Joe’s passing. Soon thereafter another call came in, this time from Chief Master Sergeant Daniels who also wanted to put together a fundraiser overseas to support the Foundation (he is a recent recipient of the Joseph Helton Leadership Award). I am finding those who were touched by the loss of Joseph( Joe, “El-Tee”, Lt Helton) are just as excited today about the memorial as they were four years ago.
So, it’s time for us to honor all those who continue to send us t-shirts, coins, do rucks and runs, both in honor his memory and the memories of all the other sons and daughters who have given their ‘all’.
I do not have the experience of running a foundation. But Joseph has brought me to the top of this hill, and he expects me to learn as I ski down (he did that to a number of friends in Colorado, I’ve been told). So, poles to the ground and off we go. I’m praying for guidance, strength, no ‘broken legs’, and I hear my Joseph whispering in my ear;
“Don’t be a weak sauce.”
Jiffy Helton Sarver
Director of Operations
Lt Helton Memorial Foundation Inc