The Flag Line

Joining the North Texas Patriot Guard Riders was not an easy choice for me, but it was a completely logical one. As Bryan’s family departed the little white chapel where his memorial service had been conducted, we were led off base at Fort Campbell by the Patriot Guard Riders. The procession was headed to the Clarksville funeral home for Bryan’s viewing.

The line of Patriot Guard motorcycles extended further than I could see down the highway.

Even though we were in an obvious funeral procession, there was one driver that tried to cut into the procession to get on the highway. One of the Riders cut her off, jumped off his bike and proceeded to explain to her – vehemently – that this was a military funeral procession. We found out later that his actions were a bit out of the usual procedure for the Riders and that he should have let the local police handle the situation. But it spoke to me of the passion the Riders have for their mission and especially for the Fallen and their families.

We arrived at the Clarksville funeral home, exited our limousines, and made our way to the front doors. Entering that building seemed to me to be the end of everything that I had ever taken for granted.

Bryan’s body lay at rest somewhere in there, along with any future hope of looking into his eyes, hugging him, wishing him Happy Birthday or Merry Christmas, watching him play with his kids, or simply sitting on a couch watching a movie with him. I would never again see him eagerly biting into a Whataburger, hear his distinctive laugh, or feel the touch of his hand.

My ‘normal’ was gone.

So, I didn’t go into the building. I just stood on the sidewalk and watched as people slowly climbed the steps into the funeral home. The feelings of sorrow and grief were coming off everyone so thick it was almost visible. That’s when I saw the Patriot Guard Flag Line. Easily two dozen Riders, standing tall and silent, each of them holding an American Flag ramrod straight, lining the sidewalk on either side of the funeral home all the way out to the street. Their bikes were all parked beside the building, side-by-side, gleaming in the mid-morning sun. It was so quiet right then that I could hear the motorcycle exhaust pipes pinging.

I walked to the end of the sidewalk on my right, stuck out my hand to the Rider standing there, shook his hand and told him in a voice that came out a little cracked, “Thank you for doing this.”

The Rider grasped my hand tightly and simply nodded.

I went down the entire Flag Line, shaking each Rider’s hand, getting a firm handshake or a hug back. There were men and women in the line, each of them wearing sunglasses, but I could still see a tear rolling down a cheek here and there.

Beth came outside then, took my hand, and I reluctantly went into the Funeral Home.

A week earlier at Bryan’s Dignified Transfer at Dover Air Force Base, Tiffany had told me that Bryan had left me his motorcycle. That bike was just one of the many regrets I would suffer in the coming days, months, and years. During my last visit with Bryan and Tiffany, he had asked me if I knew anything about motorcycle engines because he couldn’t get his bike started. I told him I only knew how to check the plugs, etc., but that we could take the bike to the local shop to get it tuned up for him. It was, after all, his birthday week and I wanted to do something special for him. He declined, saying we didn’t have much time that week and he wanted to spend it doing other things. So we covered the bike and let it sit.

Now, that bike was in my possession. I didn’t ride at the time, but it hurt me so bad to just see it sitting in the garage, unused. We called our local bike shop, had them come pick it up and give it a good tune-up stem to stern. I signed up for a motorcycle safety course in Burleson, passed the class, got my license and began riding Bryan’s bike.

With the encouragement from a good friend of ours, “Weasel,” who was a member of the North Texas Patriot Guard Riders, I joined the PGR and went on my first mission on January 29, 2015. The mission was for a World War II veteran, John S. Hart in Mansfield, Texas. I met a PGR couple there who would become my mentors and wonderful friends, Randy and Niki Smith. With much patience and respect, Randy “showed me the ropes” of standing a PGR Flag Line.

I nervously took my place in the Flag Line, gripping the flag pole so tightly in my left hand that my knuckles went white.

I thought right then that I had come full circle. I was one of the PGR. I was a Patriot Guard Rider and I was standing ‘Tall and Silent’ for a Fallen Warrior.

The Hart family began exiting the funeral home, and a few of them stopped and shook hands with the PGR. A woman stopped right in front of me, took my right hand and said, “Thank you for doing this.” I couldn’t even respond. She had spoken my words of four years ago right back to me. I had come full-circle indeed.

I was wearing sunglasses, and I removed them to wipe away the tears in my eyes. Another PGR member, Rick Crabb, who would become as close as family to us put his hand on my shoulder and whispered to me, ‘And that’s why we all wear sunglasses.’

I participated in many other PGR missions, each one of them cutting a little deeper into my heart and soul, but I’ll never forget that first Flag Line I saw standing for Bryan, or my first Flag Line I stood because of Bryan.

“Standing for Those Who Stood for Us.” – Patriot Guard Riders

Where We Can Talk

Michael Schlitz talked to me about the 30+ surgeries he’s had just on his eyes. Just. On. His. Eyes.

We were talking and visiting in the hospitality lounge at American Airlines Sky Ball and Michael was describing his surgeries to me as we sipped our coffee and it occurred to me that this was now a perfectly normal conversation for me.

Where else can a wounded warrior talk about skin grafts to his eyelids and sutures in his cornea and not have the other person make a face and back away?

The military events we attend bring us up-close and personal to the people we call Heroes. Beth and I were sitting in a hotel lobby in Amarillo with friends after Jack Barnes’ event and here comes Doc Ballard who plops himself right beside me, takes off his Medal of Honor, hands it to me, and asks Beth for a beer. We proceed to have a great conversation about traffic, weather, current events, etc.

I’m pretty sure I had a $#!%-eating grin plastered on my face, because even though that might be normal for Doc, it was a sheer pleasure for me! I was holding his medal in my hands while he unbuttoned his collar, took off his jacket, swigged his beer and was just relaxing.

It’s the same way talking to Bobby Henline, Shilo Harris, Joel Travera, Mike Jernigan, or any other wounded warrior. They have incredible stories to tell, but they also have their day-to-day life-stories to tell. I spent ten minutes just talking to Joel about a cool app that gets you cheap seats on flights. Bobby hates DFW traffic just as much as I do. Shilo jokes about his golf game and that time his ears popped off while trying on a cowboy hat. Jernigan knows all the best restaurants around DFW.

At our Gold Star Parents retreats, we encourage our parents to tell their own story, to share their hero with us, to share the pain as well as the precious stories. Because when you’re stuck somewhere and a stranger wants to strike up a conversation with you by asking what that Gold Star pin is and where can they get one, it’s kind of hard to keep the conversation going by saying the pin was presented to you after your son was killed by the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Being able to talk to our military family and peers about the worst day of our life and seeing an expression of understanding and love in their eyes is so very precious to us. I truly hope you get to meet the guys I just talked about.

They like to talk, too.



The x-ray operator apparently couldn’t identify what a book x-ray looked like.
Do so few people carry books anymore that a person under 30 years of age can’t tell what one looks like?
Was he so used to seeing electronic devices that a few paperback books caught him off guard?
Yes. Apparently so.
Have you ever caught yourself missing parts of your routine daily commute? You cross some railroad tracks or pass a landmark and suddenly realize you don’t remember the last three or four blocks?
We get into a daily routine so commonplace that our minds wander and focus on other plans or problems. Our eyes are on the road, but our minds are “a million miles away.”
We get so used to seeing some things on a regular basis that they become invisible to us, and when something extraordinary crosses our path it causes us to do a double-take.
My family didn’t travel much when I was growing up, and we certainly couldn’t afford airfare. Air travel was as exotic to me then as the Amazon Jungle.
Now I can zip through security checkpoints (usually,) grab some coffee, board the plane, and stash my luggage without even having to think about it.
I see some of our same friends regularly on these trips. I get used to seeing them often and vice-versa. They cannot tell just by looking at me what my frame of mind is at that particular time. They can’t x-ray me, and unless they’re particularly cognizant or have seen a recent social media post, they can’t tell what luggage I’m packing on that particular day.
Good friends ask you how you are. Great friends can tell how you are by just looking at you. They can see the unusual heaviness in your eyes if you’re struggling with something and they can see the sparkle when you’re having a good day.
We get used to seeing some friends and family every day. We may miss an unusual sign of trouble simply because we’re in our routine.
Don’t get caught off guard by a sudden change in someone you know and love.
I used to be called a “bookworm” because I usually had my head stuck in a book. These days it’s electronics that have me distracted. I’m actually typing this on my phone while we’re flying over Kansas and Nebraska.
I’m going to start putting my friends and family through my ‘x-ray’ to see if I notice anything out of the ordinary. So, if I pull you off your daily conveyor-belt and start asking you about your ‘luggage,’ it’s only because I love you and care about you.

No boarding-pass needed.



Because your entire body is focused on helping that one part that is actually functioning as it should; trying to rid your body of an infection by flushing it with tons of mucus. Bleh.

It’s been a week, and we’re both weak from coughing, blowing our noses, taking medications and trying to function like we do when we’re perfectly healthy. Work has to be done. Chores still need to be done, laundry needs to be done, trash taken out, pets need to be taken care of, meals still have to be prepared and then cleaned up afterwards; but it feels like we’re moving through molasses.

It’s all very reminiscent of the grief process.

A grieving person just doesn’t have the energy—or the will—to cope with normal, day-to-day routines. And like sinus infections, what may help one person is not necessarily the correct remedy for another.

Caregivers have my utmost respect. I get frustrated just trying to take care of myself, much less someone else. So, if someone you love is going through their grief process, please give them as much love and patience as you can spare. They will likely brush you off, or ask you to just leave them alone. They truly feel that their “broken heart” cannot be fixed. We all know that small organ is not the cause of the pain. It’s not what’s causing the body to fail to respond. It’s not flushing their entire body with inhibiting mucus. It’s just a way to embody the emotional strain of grief.

Post Traumatic Stress can cause your brain to malfunction. It’s not like a stroke which can physically affect parts of your nervous system, but it’s pretty close. It will cause you to forget, it will cause you to stumble, it will cause you to disregard things that you once loved. It will make you feel like you’re trying to walk upstream through a river of molasses. It is exhausting.

There’s no remedy. There’s no hot-toddy in the world that can clear the grief-mucus from your head. But there is help. If you’re reading this, you are either hurting or know someone that is. Look to our resources page on this website. You’ll be surprised at the number of people who truly care.

Our grief-mucus is going on eight years, now. To us, it’s been an eternity. There are some who have just begun grieving and there are some who have been grieving two or three times that long. There will be days it will weigh you down and you will feel like you’re being smothered and then there are those amazing days when you can actually breathe. You don’t have to fight by yourself. You have an entire body of people that want to help you fight your grief-mucus. Think of us as your own personal Neti Pot!

Okay. Maybe not. That sounded better in my head.

Praise Is Always Appreciated

We participated in and finished the Marine Corps Marathon, the Bataan Memorial Death March, Climb For A Calling, the Suck It Up Ruck, the Watermelon Run For The Fallen, The 1Lt Robbie Welch Run, The Riley Run, The Heroes Race, The Warm Place Run, The CW2 Jennifer Hunter Running Free race, Fort Campbell Run For the Fallen, Carry The Load, and a few others, all of them more than once.

I’m 62 freakin’ years old. We never trained for any of that before five or six years ago. But we did it.

A few weeks ago, we participated in the 22-mile Red Dirt Military Moms Warrior Walk Against Veteran Suicide, started by our good friend and No Slack veteran, Bob Evans and his family Eva Turner and Pat Apperson. Beth and I first met Bob at a screening for The Hornet’s Nest in Oklahoma City back in 2013. I remember walking into the reception for the film and this tall, handsome, tattooed soldier comes charging at me. He embraced me, told me how much he had admired Sgt. Burgess and how pleased he was to finally meet Bryan’s family. Bob is now “family.”

Bob organized his first 22-mile ruck for the 22 Veteran Suicides per day in 2014 at Boomer Lake in Stillwater, Oklahoma.

Bob himself has been in the danger zone. And I’m not talking about Iraq or Afghanistan. I’m talking about here at home in the good old USA. I won’t go into any details because that is Bob’s life and his business. If you know him, you probably know his struggles. My point is that he DID something positive and created a lasting tribute and awareness-raising event for a problem that is claiming lives at an alarming rate far above the quoted “national average.”

Less than a year ago I was feeling a need to push myself to the point of punishment. I didn’t care if I fell from heat exhaustion or sprained joints. I had a sense of needing to pay penance for Bryan’s death. Call it reconciliation, forgiveness, pigheaded, or whatever you want, I pushed myself to the breaking point. And you know what happened?

I got stronger.

Not just my leg muscles, or my lungs, or my heart, but my spirit, too. Many of you know that I am not a religious man. I am, however, a spiritual man thanks to Bryan’s visitation on the morning of his death. A strong spirit can belong to anyone from a warrior to an athlete to a business-person, to a grieving parent.

Bob Evans has a strong spirit. Elisabeth Burgess has a strong spirit. My son, Bryan Burgess IS a strong spirit. My strong spirit comes from each of them, and many others like them who will not let me fall or fail.

I am no one special. I’m just plain ol’ Terry. And I carry my son.


Beautiful Gold Star Mothers

Beth and I first met Marilyn Olson through the organization Medals of Honor, which was created by Amy Cotta. Marilyn organizes teams and training for events like the Bataan Memorial Death March at White Sands Missile Range and the Washington, D.C. Marine Corps Marathon. She is a Realtor in Montana, and has become a dear friend. Her patriotism and loyalty to the military is deeply appreciated and far-reaching.

From Marilyn Olson…

They are some of my most beautiful friends. Not because of their physical beauty, but because of their inner strength and resiliency. As they should, they rise up, time and time again and stand strong against a society that often times sees loss as a brief moment in time where one is to grieve for a period of time and move on; that if they speak of their loss or their child, they have not healed. They speak of their sons and daughters so that we might know something about their life and who they were as an individual rather than just a DoD statistic that died in combat or even took their own life as result of war or the inability to cope the loss of comrades before them. They not only support one another, but yet our men and women serving today; sending care packages and visiting our injured service members in hospitals while the rest of the nation goes about their day. Who does that? Who loses a child and yet rises above their own grief to ask about and even care for our living children? These beautiful Gold Star Mothers.

I am in awe by their ability to shine in what I could only imagine is the worst life could throw at them and when a society instantly distances themselves because we no longer share the common bond of a “living” child. I don’t think society does this intentionally, but it is sad and true. Perhaps many don’t know what to say or fear they might exacerbate the mother’s grief. Yet that is so far from the truth as I’ve learned. They need you. They need you to ask questions, to say their name and we need to give them that voice and “be” their voice until they can stand.

So many are my friends and every day I can smile and be proud to know such beautiful souls. I can assure you that if you take the time to even observe them from the side lines, you will want to come to know them and close that distance.

~Marilyn Olson~

Check Writing

I was in line at the H.E.B. checkout and an elderly gentleman in front of me pulled out a checkbook. I just sighed. The other lanes were packed full, and I wasn’t in that big of a hurry, so I stayed where I was. I sighed again, trying not to be too obvious about it.

Then I remembered when I worked at Harber’s Grocery back in 1974 and every customer either wrote a check or paid cash. No one ever seemed to mind the time it took to fill out a check by hand.

I admit that after a whole three minutes had passed I got impatient with the check writer. When he was finally done and the cashier started scanning my groceries I inserted my debit card into the card reader thanking the technological gods for the convenience. Then I got a beep from the card reader saying it’s a bad read. I removed the card, reinserted it making sure the chip was facing the right way (because that’s the awesome technology of the day) and again I got a bad read. The cashier suggested swiping the card. I tried that.


The reader screen said to please insert my card.

By this time the elderly gentleman had probably left the store, loaded his car, stopped at Wendy’s and paid for his meal with another check.

The cashier came across an item that didn’t want to scan so while she’s on the loudspeaker asking for assistance, she told me to reinsert the card, and I’m rewarded with a message that tells me to enter my PIN. Hooray! Progress!

While we’re waiting for the price check, I see the lady in line behind me glaring at me. She sighed. I sighed. The cashier sighed.

A tiny little H.E.B. employee who looked like she was all of twelve years old told the cashier the price of the rogue item. I got my groceries and my receipt and pushed my wobbly-wheeled cart out to the parking lot and my truck.

We get used to doing things a certain way. Sometimes we are forced to make a change. Other times we can ignore the change and keep doing things the way we have done them forever.

Traffic lights now tell us to use caution when making a left turn through an intersection.

We were warned by some futurists that technology would be our undoing.

Remember when we were warned against drunk drivers? Now it’s texting.

Remember when you had to learn to parallel park? Now your car does it for you.

Change is inevitable. It can be resisted, accepted, or improved upon, but it’s always there.

Grief will change your life for you. The only choice you have when it strikes is how you’re going to handle it. It took me a while to figure that out after Bryan was killed. The Hornet’s Nest Movie helped me figure out the dream that I’d had about Bryan. I made a choice to honor Bryan in any way possible, but to do that I had to change my life from one of crushing grief to one of uplifting honor and respect. I did not do that alone. Beth was utmost in helping me change. In the following months and years, we found hundreds of friends that would help us continue navigating through the traffic on the highway of grief.

When a person volunteers for the armed forces, some call that writing a blank check. There’s a quote that goes; “A veteran is someone who wrote a blank check made payable to the United States of America for an amount up to and including their life.”

Far too many of our sons and daughters have willingly written that check.

For those Americans who have not suffered the tragic loss of a son or daughter in service to our country, please be patient with those of us who have. It takes us a while to adapt to that change.

Turning Corners…

If you’ve ever traveled the back roads in Oklahoma you know what I’m fixin’ to say; those roads were never designed for a 131-foot-long trailer to navigate a 90-degree corner.

But those trailers are.

As the truck slowly made the corner and traffic piled up from four different directions, the leading edge of the turbine blade sliced into a traffic sign on the inside corner of the intersection. The chase vehicle was sending instructions to the truck driver and from where I was sitting I could see the independent rear wheels of the trailer slowly turning to the right. The turbine blade eased away from the traffic sign as the trailer crabbed its way further into the intersection and finally straighten out in the middle of Highway 33.

It was cool to watch.

The engineering of the trailer with the firetruck-like rear-end designed to carry and transport the turbine blades came about because of the single-piece construction of the blades.

That made me think of a few sharp turns we’ve had to navigate in the years since Bryan’s death. His death was a sharp left turn for his entire family. Most people don’t have a chase vehicle telling you when you’re about to run into an obstacle. We aren’t designed with a special set of wheels to ease us away from disaster.

Like those trucks which sometimes take several days to make a trip we can make in just a few hours, people seem to pile up behind us waiting for us to navigate a simple turn in our life that others don’t even seem to be aware of.

Maybe that blade we saw was for a new turbine, or maybe it was a replacement for one that had fatigued from the constant cyclic motion over the years. The blades are constructed to withstand storms, but they still wear out.

Weathering the storm of losing a child will flat wear you out. Carrying the load of grief makes it incredibly hard to navigate otherwise simple turns. Choosing a new job, changing your diet due to illness, maintaining a house or a car, or dealing with your spouse or your family-or both-seems insurmountable at times.

Do not give up. There are numerous organizations that are more than capable of helping you make that turn, whatever the obstacle or the load.

If not for our Survivor Outreach Services coordinators and other Gold Star parents and spouses, I’d still be stuck at the corner of Grief and Life.

The human spirit is an amazing feat of engineering. Put two or three of them together and there is no corner in the universe we cannot navigate together.

‘The Hornet’s Nest’ Released: A Father Pays Homage to Fallen Son, Bryan Burgess

“The Hornet’s Nest” is not your typical military movie. It is actual footage taken from nine days of battle in Afghanistan and the perilous situation a group of soldiers found themselves in. Several men were killed in a dangerous and hostile environment, referred to as “The Hornet’s Nest” by war photographer Mike Boettcher, who was embedded with the unit.

One of the men killed that day was Army Staff Sgt. Bryan A. Burgess, who is survived by his father, mother, sister, wife, a son and a daughter. His father, Terry Burgess, spoke with The Christian Post about their powerful relationship and the faith that kept him going after the loss of his son.

Christian Post: What was your reaction when you learned of “The Hornet’s Nest” film?

Terry Burgess: Honestly, I was a little skeptical at first because I had no idea what kind of footage they had of Bryan. We got a phone call from Chaplain Roberts, who said he had footage of Bryan and had been asked to send it in, but he wanted our permission to do so first. And I trusted Chaplain Roberts, and then a couple of weeks later, we got a call from David Salzberg, Jr., who said he had a cut of the film that he wanted us to watch that had Bryan in it but he wanted us as a family to see it first before he went into production with it.

We drove to Dallas, sat in David’s hotel room and he put in the DVD and left the room, and it was me and my wife, my ex-wife, and my daughter and we watched March 29 unfold right in front of us. I had the Army reports but they’re still sealed and in Bryan’s trunk. Now, here we are, watching the entire day, so it was a punch in the stomach. It was extremely hard to watch and then, as it sank in, we realized that this is why Bryan went over there to fight, what he volunteered to do … to fight for our freedom and our rights. It became something to be proud of.

CP: How did you feel about seeing him again?

TB: It was wonderful and heart-wrenching to hear his voice and to hear him talk about his children – to see him smiling. He’s obviously having very happy memories of his children, to see him in a hell-hole and smiling and talking about his children. It warmed our hearts to know that he had those thoughts with him while he was over there.

His wife, Tiffany, did a screening in Washington. The children have seen photos of their daddy and they know who he was.

CP: How has your faith helped you through all of this?

TB: I think without my faith, it would have just crushed me, destroyed me. After we got the news that Bryan had been killed, we had all of the ceremonies that we were invited to attend. We were very busy that first month, but after we got home … I was unemployed at the time. We had the flag and the memories, but that’s all we had. It started getting harder to get out of bed, and I couldn’t find a reason to get out of bed. Beth, my wife, had the strength to carry both of our broken hearts. That’s when we got the call about “The Hornet’s Nest.” And it got me out of bed and gave me a reason to carry on. I knew Bryan’s spirit was strong, and I actually have a story about his spirit.

I had had a dream about Bryan – we were walking along a dirt road and he was dressed in full military gear. We found ourselves in a big, outdoor movie theater, which was a natural setting because we loved watching movies together. Then, on this blinding white movie screen, was the image of a glass coffin and Bryan standing next to it. He smiles at me, climbs into the coffin and lays down. As soon as his helmet hit the pillow, he became little boy Bryan. He lays there a minute, then stands up and he’s warrior Bryan again. He gives me a half-salute and the screen goes blindingly white. I look over to my right, and Bryan is gone. I woke up at that moment and got dressed to tell Beth, and she’s on the phone with my daughter-in-law, who is telling her that Bryan has just been killed in battle.

Bryan wanted me to honor the soldier and the man he had become. Of course, the shock of the dream and on the phone, and the Army colonel stopping by with a minister to give us the news … knowing that Bryan’s spirit had visited me was energizing. So, reflecting on that, knowing that I will see him again and we will rejoice together again gave me a reason to join the story and mission of “The Hornet’s Nest” and tell his story every chance I get.

Even the Scriptures were hollow to me – Bryan was everything and I lost that. We’ve talked to a lot of other families who have lost their children. There’s a connection there that people can relate to. Pastor Joe Martin invited me to come speak and that, I think, was our first connection with the congregation, with Christians, to know that there are so many analogies between Christians and soldiers. Soldiers give their lives for our freedom, while Christ gave his life for our salvation.

CP: Do you keep in touch with the men who were stationed with Bryan?

TB: They have been really great about keeping in touch and letting us know how they’re doing. Most of them have invisible wounds – not one came out of the valley changed. They know that I don’t blame them or hold them responsible for Bryan’s death. He was surrounded by men who loved him. I am very, very proud of him.

The movie is a catalyst for people to talk, for soldiers to talk about what happened to them while they served, and I hope that always continues. People need to be able to talk about the things they saw and experienced during their time of service. And I’m proud to be a part of that conversation and to be able to listen to those who need someone to listen to them.