Woman uses grief to honor all veterans with memorial

Published: May. 29, 2023 at 10:30 PM EDT
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AUGUSTA CO., Va. (WDBJ) - Memorial Day is a somber occasion as the nation remembers those who gave the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom. And it’s an especially difficult day for the families of service members. One woman is using her grief to help honor all veterans.

From the outside it may look like a farm – but if you look closely, you can see what makes this space in Augusta County so special.

“I set up a little military village farm in honor of my husband – my hero,” said Vanessa McMullen.

U.S. Army SSG W.L. McMullen served in the Army for 22 years before he passed away in 2003. His wife, Vanessa, built this memorial to honor his life and legacy.

“The way I can explain it easily, (it’s) like an earthquake. It happens right there, really hard, really hard and you just grieve and just something shocks,” explained Vanessa. “And then afterward it is like you can feel it. It’s like the tremors after the earthquake and it trembles not only for days but it trembles for years.”

Vanessa received support from the Tragedy Assistant Program for Survivors, known as TAPS. She then used her grief to help others by becoming a peer mentor for the group.

“You don’t have to do it alone. TAPS is there,” added Vanessa. “And this is why TAPS has mentors all over the world. I could call TAPS 24 hours a day and it’s gonna be somebody else on that line to talk to me. There’s gonna be somebody to help me through.”

During COVID she wanted to take it a step further. So, Vanessa decided to create a safe place for veterans and their families.

“Being with TAPS and seeing the programs they have, they offer – it inspired me to set up something where people had to remember. They could come by and they could feel pride,” said Vanessa.

Families can learn about grieving services, play with farm animals and see the memorial.

“I’m hoping that they realize that they’re not alone and that healing does come,” added Vanessa. “Cause part of being at the farm and being around animals is a healing process. And that they are also important and they are loved.”

Her mission remains close to her heart, as Vanessa’s son W.L. McMullen Jr. is currently serving in the Marines.

She asks everyone to remember the sacrifices of service members and their families on Memorial Day.