Editor’s Note: Merced native Staff Sgt. Frank J. Gasper, 25, was killed in Iraq on May 25. Gasper’s mother and mother-in-law wrote the following letters to thank the Merced community for its support. Readers can reach Anita Richards at firstname.lastname@example.org and Stacey Devine-Fairfield at email@example.com.
Dear Merced residents, Snelling Community, family, friends and supporters from far and near:
On behalf of Staff Sgt. Frank Gasper's family, we would like to give special thanks to each of you for your love and support during this difficult time. We were completely overwhelmed by the blessings we received from both our hometown residents and people we did not even know from all over the world. All the cards, on-line messages,flowers, money, phone calls, hugs, food donations and condolences provided us with such comfort that words cannot express.
We especially felt comforted to have Sgt. 1st Class Robert Haflick and Sgt. Donald Ramsey from the military provide Breanna and our families with their support.
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The personal love and support we received from the soldiers, chaplain and military staff from my son's unit -- 3rd Battalion, 10th Special Forces Group, Fort Carson, Colo. -- was above and beyond what we expected. We could not have made it through this without you. Your participation in the service and the heartfelt words you spoke there brought out our son's passion and helped everyone understand what Frank stood for. The service would not have been as beautiful as it was without you.
Special thanks to Pastor Sam Emory, Tawanna Ratzlaff and the Apostolic Tabernacle choir and church family for honoring Frank's request. It was exactly how Frankie would have wanted it. Special thanks to The Branding Iron and La Hacienda 2 for your food donations the day of the funeral. It was very much appreciated.
Special thanks to Merced County Public Health Department and Winton Hardware for being so supportive of us during the loss of our son. The other thing that really stands out in my mind is the flags displayed along the road on 15th Street and B Street, and all the people standing there showing their support. It brought such comfort to us when we saw you standing there honoring our hero, our son Staff Sgt. Frank Gasper.
Special thanks to the National Color Guard in coordinating the Patriot Guard Riders during Frank's homecoming and during the funeral. Your presence and seeing those flags wave represented what my son stood for. Your love and support was definitely felt and provided comfort.
We would like to thank Lt. Gen. Robert Wagner, commanding general of U.S. Army Special Operations Command, Ft. Bragg, N.C., U.S .Senator Barbara Boxer, Merced County Executive Officer Dee Tatum, and AFSCME Local Union 2703 for the letters of condolence. Your condolences really meant a lot to our family.
Special thanks to Staff Sgt. Frank Gasper's childhood hometown residents of Snelling, for your love and support. It really brought such comfort in more ways than you can imagine when we arrived at the cemetery and saw all those signs, like "Snelling loves SSG Frank Gasper," being held up with such pride and honor. I know Frankie was smiling from ear to ear when he arrived to the cemetery and saw you standing there with those signs. The signs will forever be remembered in our hearts.
It was the military, the residents of Merced, friends from out of town, the general public, and people from all over the world that made Staff Sgt. Frank Gasper's funeral what it was. The spirit of pride, gratitude and honor that we all shared the day we put Frank to rest next to his father, the late Joe Gasper, was a result of your appreciation, respect and honor toward the sacrifice Staff Sgt. Gasper made for each of us, our country and others.
We love each of you and are so thankful to each of you for all your love and support toward our families. Please continue to keep our military and their families in your prayers.
Signed, A Gold Star Family: Joel and Anita Richards, Proud Parents of Staff Sgt. Frank Gasper, aka Gasparticus, and sister and brother-in-law Victoria and Staff Sgt. Dustin Beuerlein
Dear Merced County Residents:
My name is Stacey Devine-Fairfield and I am writing this on behalf of my daughter Breanna Gasper who lost her husband Staff Sgt. Frank J. Gasper on May 25, 2008 while on his fourth tour of duty in Iraq. When we first learned of Frank's death, as anyone could imagine we were absolutely horrified. This wasn’t supposed to be happening to “our family” -- probably what every other family who has lost a loved one in the war or even in an accident would be thinking.
Immediately, we were contacted by friends, family, and former co-workers from Merced. What a blessing it was to have them call and send their condolences. I know that people probably didn’t know exactly what to say, or even how to say it, but we want all of you to know that it meant the world to us.
Making the funeral arrangements was obviously the hardest thing I have ever had to do in my life. However, Mark Anderson from Stratford Evans Funeral Home was absolutely wonderful. He was patient, caring, and truly at our beck and call. We were able to do most of it by phone, as we were still in Colorado awaiting word on when Frank would make it home. He made making these horrible arrangements at least bearable. Breanna kept saying she only wanted the best for Frank, and he made sure that is exactly what he received. We also want to thank the military -- all branches -- for their services before, during and after the funeral. What a great job they did honoring a hero.
Reading the articles written by Leslie Albrecht before we arrived in Merced was truly amazing. Admittedly, they were heartbreaking. However, I feel as if she captured the “real” Staff Sgt. Frank Gasper. He would have been so proud and probably would have been a little embarrassed; he was not the sort of person who would toot his own horn.
When Frank arrived at the Merced Airport we were naturally very upset. However, we felt a little relief to see the Patriot Guard Riders holding their flags in honor of our hero. They were very respectful to our family and friends. They led the hearse to the funeral home and were there again on the day of the funeral. When I first was told about the organization and what they did I was appalled that people would actually come out to protest at the funeral of a fallen soldier. We are very grateful for the Patriot Guard Riders and their presence and were happy that there was no one there who wanted to disrupt the honoring of such a wonderful man.
The day of the funeral is actually a blur to all of us. There are several things that stand out in my mind that remind me what a wonderful community Merced is. One is the fact that so many people came out to honor my son-in-law, including Mayor Ellie Wooten and state Assemblywoman Cathleen Galgiani.
While we were on our way to the cemetery, there was a gentleman who got out of his truck and saluted Frankie. What a wonderful and warm feeling we all had when we saw him. Once we turned on to B Street, the street was lined with American flags. What a beautiful sight. There were people standing outside watching us go by with tears in their eyes. Even though they may not have known Frank, they were obviously saddened by our loss. When something like this happens we sometimes only think about how this tragedy is affecting our family and we forget how it actually can affect a whole community.
Even though we have been gone from Merced for five years -- Breanna and Frank in Colorado, and Tim and I in Arizona -- we were pleased to see that we all still had such a connection to such a wonderful community as Merced. It wasn’t until we arrived back home and went through the guest book from the funeral that we realized how many of our friends were there with us to honor Frank. We were very disappointed that we were not able to see you all or speak to you, but we are very grateful that you were there. Knowing that you took the time out to come to the funeral fills our hearts with love and we thank you!!
We would like to thank The Branding Iron for donating the drinks for us the day Frank arrived home, and for the salads that they provided at the reception following the funeral. Also a special thanks to Vinnie De Angelo from De Angelo's for providing us dinner two nights in a row at my cousin Susan and Jesse Logan's home who we stayed with and were nice enough to open their home to all 10 of us. (Thanks Auntie Susan and Uncle Poncho.) Thank you to La Hacienda 2 for providing food at the reception following the funeral. We would like to thank the Apostolic Tabernacle Church and church members for a beautiful service and for setting up the hall, serving and preparing the food, and making us all feel very welcome.
On a personal note, we go through life sometimes getting caught up in our own “stuff,” and sometimes forget how much we are loved and missed. I want to thank Lyalla Dias for having the courage to read the obituary and remembering Frankie. I know this was difficult, as she cared for him very much. Thanks to Mindy Huckaby for working all night and then driving to the Fresno airport to pick up Breanna and Sgt. Donald Ramsey’s luggage and then driving it to Merced, and thank you to Lisa Yanez and her son Isaac for letting Devin stay with them the day of the funeral and for just being there for all of us. I want to thank Melody Wisdom for coming to Merced from Arizona to be with us and coordinating the food from De Angelo's. I want to thank Mrs. Fagan's second grade class from Marks Elementary School in Dos Palos for the handmade book they sent with letters and drawings to Breanna and Frank thanking him for his service and telling Breanna how sorry they were for her loss. It is absolutely heart-wrenching to read these letters from second-graders. Some of them even mentioned that they cried when they saw Breanna and Frank's picture because they looked like they were so much in love.
We want our family and friends who still reside in the Merced area and the ones who live in other states to know how much your love, support, and kindness means to us all.
I know that there are a lot of people who I am forgetting, and I apologize for that. But we want all the people of Merced and the surrounding towns to know that we appreciate your prayers, cards, flowers, and compassion during this very difficult time in our lives. We will never forget what the City of Merced did for our Staff Sgt. Frank J. Gasper, my beautiful daughter Breanna, and our families.
May the Lord keep you and your families safe.