- Published on Tuesday, 27 November 2012 13:07
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What began as a way to show her son that he will always be loved, honored, respected and, more importantly, never forgotten, has turned into a chance for other parents and relatives to send messages to loved ones who served in the military and have since passed away.
Sonja Ruhren, formerly of Stafford, began sending up red balloons with messages to her son David Ruhren in heaven after he lost his life in a suicide bombing in Iraq on Dec. 21, 2004.
Ruhren recalls getting the news at 3:30 a.m. that her son had been killed along with 22 other servicemen in a mess hall suicide bombing in Iraq while serving a tour of duty with the Army National Guard.
“The boys were going on their next mission and were detained and went to the mess hall,” Ruhren recalls. Two friends of David, Nicholas Mason of King George and Richard Hursh of Stafford, were all standing together at the time of the explosion. David and Nicholas did not survive the blast, Richard was badly wounded.
Ruhren began a journey of emotions for the last eight years, “After I got over the anger and questions that would never be answered, I knew there were many things David wanted to do.”
Ruhren said her life was altered that day, after losing her only son she could no longer do what everyone else did. “During Christmas I’m going to be at a cemetery, I don’t get to sit home at a nice quiet house. Me and the Mason’s don’t have the luxury of doing what people do.”
Because David was her only child, during holidays and birthdays she said she would go to extremes. After losing David, she couldn’t have his birthdays anymore, so she began sending up red balloons on his birthday instead.
David promised his mother he would go to college, so Ruhren started ‘Davey’s Ride’, a charity bike ride that raises funds for college scholarships in David and Nicholas names.
Ruhren began sending up red balloons to David on the anniversary of this death, on his birthday and during the charity rides.
The balloon launch was private for Ruhren, but as the years went by, through her charity rides, she talked with other people who had lost loved ones who served in the military.
The charity rides morphed into honoring all military member, lost and alive. Ruhren explained that many soldiers who come back from war live with the guilt that they survived. When a friend doesn’t come home, many fellow soldiers who have promised families they would watch over them feel guilty, like they failed to keep a promise.
Ruhren realized that others might benefit from the chance to send a message to their loved ones. The gathering gives relatives a chance to listen and be heard by others, but Ruhren cautions, no one loss is lesser or greater than that of another and no one can know what each other is going through because each family’s loss is as unique as the person who is gone.
About four years ago Ruhren began including friends in the balloon launch. The first year there were 21 people sharing the experience, the next year it grew to almost 40 and last year Ruhren said 360 people joined in.
This year Ruhren hopes to have at least 500.
Ruhren says people call her strong, “I’m not!” she says. Rehren doesn’t want credit, she said “I only lit a spark, it’s all the people who join in who deserve the credit for this movement.”
The balloon launch is an opportunity for all loved ones to send messages to their relatives who served in the military and are gone now.
Ruhren said, “We honor all fallen soldiers whether they lost their lives in the line of duty or in civilian life. It’s a chance for loved ones to remember their relatives sacrifices and celebrate their lives.”
Ruhren, who now lives in Virginia Beach, plans to return to King George and release balloons at the Mason’s property where their son Nicholas Mason is buried in a family plot.
Councilman Tim Curtin is spearheading a group to launch balloons in Colonial Beach. Anyone who is interested in participating can do so. Ruhren asks that people who have to work send a balloon from work, home or whereever you desire and take a photo and share your experience on her facebook page at facebook.com/sonja.ruhren.
Balloons will launch at noon eastern time on December 21.