Memorial Day weekend is a time filled with barbecues, road trips and even some car shopping, but it’s really a time to honor U.S. military members who died in service of our nation. But what about the families left behind and struggling through their darkest time?
TAPS, or the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, is a nonprofit organization that assists military families dealing with the death of a service member. For Bonnie Carroll, founder and president of TAPS, this organization was born from a powerful love story and a deep loss.
Carroll met her husband, Tom Carroll, when they teamed up to save three stranded whales in Alaska in 1988. While that sounds like a fish tale, the dramatic story of the whale rescue and the Carrolls’ whirlwind romance is captured in the movie, “Big Miracle” starring Drew Barrymore. At the time, Tom Carroll was a colonel in the National Guard, and Bonnie worked in President Ronald Reagan’s administration and also served in the Air National Guard among many other roles.
The pair married and Bonnie moved to Alaska “to live very happily ever after,” she said. But as many know firsthand, life often doesn’t go according to plan. For Carroll, life changed forever when then-Brig. Gen. Tom Carroll died in an Army plane crash in 1992. As she worked through the grief, she looked for support from other military families but couldn’t find an organization that suited her needs.
“When Tom was killed in an Army plane crash in 1992, it was such a shock, but I felt, well, wow, it’s such a blessing that I’ve had all these experiences, which will hopefully allow me to help myself, my family, the community to heal,” Carroll said.