Helicopter pilot Joshua Tillery was a month shy of his 32nd birthday when he was shot down in 2009. He left behind his wife, Stephanie, three young sons, and a fourth he never got to meet.
His father, Steve Tillery, grew up without knowing his own father. He decided that his grandsons story would be different.
He and his wife, LuAnn, both nurses, channeled their familys loss into something hopeful: the Tillery Memorial Fund, started in their sons honor.
First, so Joshuas boys would never forget who he was, said Steve Tillery.
Second, to support local health and counseling programs and those that rehabilitate, educate and train young veterans returning from duty.
The Tillery Fund held its first fundraiser in April, raising more than $20,000 in one day.
Chief Warrant Officer Joshua Tillery grew up in Oregon. He loved the mountains and is buried at Willamette National Cemetery in Portland. Steve Tillery visits the grave a few times a year.
Joshua, who loved to fly helicopters, enlisted in the Army right out of high school, joining a long family tradition.
All of Joshua Tillerys uncles served: one in Beirut, one in Desert Storm, and one is now a major in the Air Force. Joshua met his wife, Stephanie, when both were in the Army.
Steve Tillery is a Vietnam veteran. He knows the challenges of coming home from war and re-entering normal life.
Because the war goes away doesnt mean the battle is over for vets, he said.
A lot of young veterans returning from service live in distress, under the radar. They dont complain, he said. They dont say anything until its too late.
They quietly come home and kill themselves, said Steve. You dont hear about them or what their parents go through.
NEW ROLE FOR A FATHER
Tillery calls himself an introvert. He went back to school at age 45 to become a nurse. Creating the memorial fund has forced him to leave his comfort zone. Hes had to get over his fear of flying for his trips to Portland. Hes begun speaking publicly to veterans and others groups.
My son has made me do a lot of things I never would have done, he said.
Steve and LuAnn have nine grandchildren. Their framed pictures cover a wall of their West Boise home where pictures of Joshua in uniform also greet visitors. Six of the grandchildren, including Joshuas four sons, live in Boise. That means lots of family time for Steve and LuAnn camping and sports events in addition to their full-time nursing jobs.
But they are devoted to their work as Gold Star parents. The term refers to those who lost a child in war.
We want to grow this thing, Steve said. We dont want it to be a hobby.
The funds small, all-volunteer staff which is always looking for more members meets every month around the Tillerys kitchen table.
The group includes Jessica Matthews, a nurse who worked with Steve at the time of Joshuas death.
I have two teenage daughters. I cant imagine what it must be like to lose a child, she said.
As a nurse, Im used to dealing with people in pain. But the pain is usually visible. Before becoming a part of this group, I didnt realize the needs of veterans in this community both young and old.
Matthews said she and the other volunteers were pleasantly surprised that the groups April fundraiser, a clay pigeon shoot and crawfish dinner, raised so much money. The group plans to hold its second crawfish cookout next year on the Saturday after Mothers Day.
The money raised in April went to the Wyakin Warrior Foundation, which supports wounded veterans who want to go to college, and to the Braveheart Grant Fund, which provides one-time grants of up to $500 for veterans with emergencies. The donation from the Tillerys will help 20 veterans and their families.
Its pretty humbling, when youre dealing with a family thats lost their son, but wants to keep his memory alive by doing things for other veterans, said Jeff Bacon, director of the Wyakin program.
Bacon noted that Admiral Mike Mullen, retired chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, had recently mentioned the fear that Gold Star families have of being forgotten and becoming peripheral to the military.
The Tillery Memorial Funds nearly $10,000 donation to the Wyakin Warrior Foundation will help counter that fear in a specific, tangible way, said Bacon.
Wyakin plans to bring 10 new students into the program next year. Nearly 20 more wounded veterans are on the waiting list. Coupled with other donations, the Tillery money will help support one additional student for one year.
Somebodys life will be improved, said Bacon. You talk about legacies. Josh will have a legacy with a wounded warrior.
Anna Webb: 377-6431