News: Daughter of fallen soldier receives honor
Story by Sgt. Angela Parady
AUGUSTA, Maine - Father's Day is a time to spend with the men in our lives who have helped to shape the people we are, a time to play and a time to be thankful for the presence they have had. For one little girl, this Father's Day was one of many to be spent cherishing the memories of a father who sacrificed his life in a war that is still far from over.
Allyssa Braelyn Hutchins will never have the pleasure of her dad teaching her how to ride her bicycle, nor will she know the pain of having her father lecture her before heading out on her first date. Her mother is determined that Allyssa will always know who he was, and the honor and sacrifice of his life.
The Maine Select Funeral Honor Guard presented Allyssa a folded flag June 17, Father's Day. The ceremony was similar to the one they had for her mother, Heather Hutchins, wife of Spc. Andrew Hutchins who was killed in Afghanistan in November 2010. Hutchins was deployed with the 101st Airborne Division, from Fort Campbell, Kentucky as a military policeman. Hutchins, who was five months pregnant wept openly during Andrew's funeral.
"I felt completely alone," said Hutchins, a native of Solon, of her husband's funeral. "I mean, there were people all around me, but I didn't have that spousal support. I had nothing to make me happy then. But now I have this little person, she just kind of lights up my world."
A network of other Army wives, have helped her to get through some of the tougher times. "They totally help you out, the other Army wives. You can say anything to them, anything at all and they just get it. Whereas my mom, she tries to give me her opinion, or her advice, but it's not the same. The other widows, they have provided a lot of support."
The military approached Hutchins to set up the ceremony to show Allyssa their recognition and appreciation for her father's sacrifice in the traditional folding ceremony.
Sgt. 1st Class Michelle A. Patten is the casualty assistance officer for the Hutchins family. "Heather picked the day, but the military wanted to present Allyssa with the flag and the gold star lapel, because that is what is proper for the child," said Patten, who works for the Maine Army National Guard. They want to make sure everything is done."
"It seemed like a happy day for Heather," said Patten. "She had a smile on her face, and she was really happy that they were doing this for Alyssa."
Hutchins agreed. The ceremony itself was very emotional, and almost too reminiscent of her husband's funeral, but she has a different outlook now.
"I don't think it should be a sad thing, to see mine and Andrew's baby receive a folded flag," said Hutchins. "It is sad, but it's a good thing that the Army wanted to present this to her, that they even remembered her."
"I think it is very important that she has her own flag," said Hutchins. "I couldn't come up with any real reason why she should wait until she was older, and I just really wanted her to have her own flag for her father."
Hutchins had asked that the Honor Guard speak directly to Allyssa, a potential challenge considering she is only 15 months old. Spc Denis J. Haiss, of Brewer, was selected to present the flag to the child.
"On behalf of the president of the United States, the United States Army and our grateful nation, please accept this flag as a symbol of our appreciation for your loved one's honorable and faithful service," said Haiss. These words are the same words that are spoken to each recipient of a folded flag.
"He didn't even look at me. He knelt down and put the flag on her little legs, and held it there. He spoke straight to her face, He looked her directly in the eyes and spoke to her," she said.
The Maine Military Funerals Honors Program has performed more than 8,000 ceremonies since its inception in 2003. Nearly 900 have been done this year alone, and Haiss himself has participated in nearly 200 since joining the program last year. For Haiss this is just one way he can show respect and honor those who have come before him.
"It is an honorable service to be part of, it is the last thing the family is going to remember of their loved one. We strive to always look our best, perform our best so that this last service is memorable, so that we honor the people properly," said Haiss.
"She may not remember the ceremony, but she will have the flag at least," said Haiss of Allyssa being so young. "We have to make sure they are not forgotten. They took part in something that not many people take part in.'
Hutchins is determined to make sure her daughter knows everything about her late father. She scrolls through pictures on her laptop, and tells stories of the childhood sweethearts. Her family and Andrew's family are also a constant presence in the young child's life.
"He wanted to be a dad, and being a parent was a very important thing to him, to who he was," said Hutchins. "And even though he's not here, he wanted to be a parent to her. I just want to make sure she knows who he is when she sees his picture. I want to make sure she has respect for who her parent is, even if he can't be here as a physical presence in her life."
Allyssa sat quietly on her mother's lap, very well behaved throughout the entire ceremony, said Patten.
After the last fold was creased, Haiss walked the folded flag over to the young girl. He had specific instructions from Hutchins to let the young girl take the flagfrom his hands, as is the custom. This was the first ceremony where Haiss had presented a flag to a child so young. Hutchins hopes his presence honored her husband and her daughter at the same time.
"The soldier could not have done a better job with handing her that flag," said Hutchins.
While the ceremony provided some closure to the Army, and Hutchins, it will never be out of her mind.
"She is trying to carry on Andrew's name, his memory. Everything is for Alyssa, until she is old enough to do it herself, " said Patten