When retired U.S. Army Col. Jeanette McMahon lost her husband Lt. Col. Michael McMahon in a chopper crash in Afghanistan, becoming the sole caretaker for her three boys was the hardest undertaking she’d ever had to do.
“Raising my three boys, that was the hardest thing I ever did. And in comparison to some of the other things I did in my life, you know, I chose some pretty challenging things in my life. I went to West Point, I served there 27 years in the Army in a non-traditional female role. And to say that raising my three boys by myself after I lost my husband was the hardest thing I ever did, that’s saying something,” McMahon said. “You have to do everything yourself, you know, and sometimes getting the food on the table, and doing another load of laundry, and maybe reading a story to your kids at night. And it’s important to have family time, but it’s also important to spend time with each one of them. And you’ve run out of time in the day. So it can really be daunting, a daunting task to do this by yourself.”
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McMahon was well-prepared to take on the task. After all, she was used to taking charge.
“I had certain coping skills that because of my career and dealing, you know, just running organizations myself, that I had to run my family,” McMahon said. “You know, I was used to training soldiers and used to going out and doing missions. And so you know, I had a mission.”
That mission got a little bit easier when her oldest son was graduating from high school, and she learned of the organization Children of Fallen Patriots.
“It just so happened that some of the Children of Fallen Patriots board members were at their graduation, and I was introduced to them, and they were encouraging me, ‘You should sign up for this organization, you should sign up for these benefits.’ And I thought, ‘You know, this is a great organization.’ But you know, my husband, I put away, you know, there’s other people out there that really need this. And I don’t want to take away from that,” McMahon said. “And they looked at me in the eye, and they said, ‘No, you don’t understand. There are Americans out there who have donated to our organization so that your children can be taken care of because of the sacrifice of your husband. This is not a scholarship that you have to qualify for. This is something that these American people want to do for you to honor your sacrifice.’ That was the salve on the wound, that was like, my healing started to begin and that that had occurred six years after my husband had died. And I was still struggling at that point. And to hear those words, I still get choked up when I think about how those American people wanted to support me and my loss and support my children, and that they were going to be there for us.”
Children of Fallen Patriots is an organization that provides college scholarships and educational counseling to military children who have lost a parent in the line of duty. McMahon said for her three boys, over the course of 10 years, they got $185,000 in grants from the organization. But even more important than that money, was the emotional support the organization provides for the children it serves.
“I had a ongoing relationship with Children of Fallen Patriots for 10 years, because of the ages of my children and the way it worked out. And so for that 10 years, we had constant communication, we had phone calls, we had emails, and the people that work with children there, they have all lost their dad, these scholarship administrators that work with our students. They’ve all been through this process, they are Gold Star children,” McMahon said. “And then they’ve gone to college with Children of Fallen Patriots benefits, and they understand how the process works. So it’s so helpful to know in my case with my children, it was so helpful for them to be able to talk to someone who had been through the same process, they didn’t have to talk about the loss. They didn’t have to talk about the fact that they were in that situation that they had lost their dads, but the fact that they knew it, and they had that bond, that was that was powerful. That was impactful.”
McMahon was so grateful for what the organization did for her family, that now, retired from the Army, she works with Children of Fallen Patriots.
“It’s wonderful, because I can reach out to other families and other moms, you know, or even dads who have been in the position of losing their spouse in in combat or as a result of military service. And I kind of can just help shepherd them through the process. And it’s great to be to have resources to be able to offer that will help their children be successful. And that’s what’s so important,” McMahon said.
McMahon said applying for benefits is easy. The only qualification is being a Gold Star child.
“The enrollment form is easy, you go to FallenPatriots.org. And you go to our website, and there’s a button for enroll, you click on the button. And the only information you have to give us initially is really your name, your date of birth, you know, your father’s name, his date of death. And we can go from there,” said McMahon. “We will also will help students who have debt already and qualified, but didn’t realize it. So they can come to us after the fact and say, you know, I’m paying off the student debt. One thing I think it’s important for people out there to understand is, if you made a decision not to go to college, when you were younger, because maybe you weren’t doing well or you were struggling, that doesn’t mean you can’t change your situation. Now, if you’re 24, or 28, and you say, you know, now I’m ready to go to college, Children of Fallen Patriots is going to be there for you.”
They also have a division where they work to help kids get internships with companies and give them support on creating resumes and how to be successful in an interview. All important skills for getting a leg up in the career world.
McMahon said sometimes it’s difficult for military families to accept help, but in this case, the help is absolutely worth it.
“Most of these families were servants. That’s how they approach the world, their service member who they lost was serving the country. And they kind of take on that façade and their family, that they’re servants to the nation. So receiving help and support, they’re used to being on the other end of it, they’re serving. So it’s hard for them to say, ‘Yes, I need help now.’ So that’s the first hurdle of overcoming that that need to say, ‘OK, now, we’re going to take care of you.’ And that’s OK,” McMahon said.
For more information on the organization’s programs or if you’d like to donate, click here.