MIDLAND -- Friday will mark one year since the Midland train tragedy. Four veterans were killed after the unthinkable – when a train collided with the parade float in which they were riding.
Later this month, the survivors of that crash are coming back to Midland to complete their mission and finally get to go on their “Hunt for Heroes” trip.
On November 15, 2012, the community gathered to honor veterans injured while serving our country. But at 4:35 PM, they witnessed the unthinkable. A Union Pacific train couldn’t stop in time and crashed into the flatbed full of veterans and their wives.
Four decorated heroes were lost that day. Four wives made widows in an instant.
Marine Chief Warrant Officer 3 Gary Stouffer was a father of two, a husband and survivor of an IED attack in Afghanistan.
Army Sgt. Maj. Lawrence Boivin served as Special Ops. He was awarded the Silver Star and Purple Heart and he served bravely in Iraq and Afghanistan. He was also a husband, step-father and grandfather.
Army Sgt. Maj. William Lubbers was part of the Special Forces team in Afghanistan and Pakistan. He earned a Purple Heart and Bronze Stars. He was a proud father and supportive husband.
Purple Heart recipient Army Sgt. Joshua Michael was the proud father of two. In his last action of bravery, he saved the love of his life.
"He pushed Dailyn off and saved her life,” said family friend Corey Rogers. “Definitely was not a shock to me that he would do something like that and just act out of no selfishness, no interest in his own life, but saving his life."
Now, as the calendar approaches the one-year mark, there’s another emotional hurdle.
“Anniversary’s tough. I don’t look at it as an anniversary. We’re a year down the road.”
Terry Johnson is the founder of Show of Support. The Hunt for Heroes excursions serves as the heartbeat of his mission.
“It’s time now to memorialize those we lost and those that were injured,” Johnson said. “Not so much in a sad way but to try to move forward and honor them and remember them.”
Seventeen of the 24 men from last year’s Hunt will return to Midland on Thursday, November 21.
“As they have put it to me, we’re going to complete this mission,” said Johnson.
The mission is a weekend hunt in West Texas and a reunion to honor, remember and move forward.
“I’m looking forward to reuniting with them,” Johnson said. “There’s going to be a lot of tears shed, but hopefully some healing, helpful tears. They need it. We need it, as a community, we need it.
The last 12 months have not been easy.
“To be real honest I’ve spent the year putting out the fires we had to put out.”
Terry’s honest blue eyes still can’t truly express what he and those involved went through. Saying it out loud makes it even more difficult.
“I was in shock, shock’s your friend, shock took over for the first three months,” Johnson admits.
Four wooden crosses at the site of the train crash are a daily reminder of the men lost.
At this year’s luncheon, Terry will unveil plans for a permanent memorial to the veterans.
“This memorial is something Midland and the surrounding area can be proud of.”
It will be placed at the corner of A St. and Scharbauer in Midland, on a piece of property adjacent to the parking lot at the county annex building.
A Texas artist is commissioned for the project.
“The amazing part of that is his daughter was on the first trailer,” said Johnson.
The soldiers returning for this year’s event will help dedicate the spot as a memorial to their fallen brothers.
“I thought this would be an unbelievable way to make that piece of ground sacred and let them know we are remembering and we are going to do all we can to not forget.”
Planning the 2013 event, and working towards a permanent memorial has gotten Terry through, though he admits, there are emotions from that day he hasn’t fully dealt with yet.
“In my mind I just kind of like to keep plowing forward to the 21st,” Johnson said. “Having said that, I have buried myself in this project and really putting off everything until after it’s done and that’s probably when it will hit, a year’s worth of stuff, that’s probably when it will hit after the hunt. That’s kind of where I’m at.”
For Terry and the Show of Support organization, it’s all about moving forward.
“I don’t ever want to stop and look back 17:00:28:10 other than to remember.”
Remember those lost and remember how the people of Midland and the surrounding communities stepped into action to give blood, offer support and lift up prayers.
Terry says the community was his strength in those dark days.
“I’ve always known there was a God, but really learned last year about the power of prayer when I felt it, and I swear it came from across the nation, I felt like I’d been lifted up a foot off the ground that’s how I got through it.”
Midland Mayor Wes Perry is proud of how the Tall City responded.
“That was such a tragic event, but Midlanders came together and loved on those families like I’ve never seen,” Mayor Perry said.
Mayor Perry, like many, has had a hard time letting the truth sink in.
“The shock, unbelief, can’t be happening in Midland, Texas.”
It was something so unbelievable – at an event honoring the bravest of brave.
“Even to the extent – I saw a little reenactment, not the real thing but the NTSB report. And I kept thinking, ‘oh this isn’t going to happen.’ I’m still in a little disbelief that it did happen,” Perry said.
Mayor Perry was at the luncheon before the parade, and then addressed the community in the hours after the tragedy.
“I was able to make connections with those soldiers and their families and thinking about these spouses that have sacrificed in great ways,” Perry said. “Then for this to have happened was you know from the highest of the high to the lowest of the low.”
Last week, the NTSB released its final report – placing responsibility on the city of Midland and the parade organizers. The mayor and Terry declined comment on the report citing pending litigation.
Over the last ten years, nearly 350 soldiers have come to West Texas for Hunt for Heroes. Terry says, after the accident, many of those soldiers reached out. It was those soldiers, Terry says, who told him to keep Hunt for Heroes moving forward in honor.
“When they say you’ve got to keep it going and my rally to everybody is help me keep it going because these guys need it, want it, believe in it, so we’re going to continue to move forward,” Johnson said.
Moving forward out of gratitude for their service and honor of their sacrifice,
“On behalf of those of everybody that makes it happen, thank you from the soldiers and because it changes their lives in ways we never dreamed,” said Johnson.
There will be no parade during this year’s event. But on the night of the 21st, Show of Support will have its banquet dinner at the Horseshoe with a bleacher section free and open to the public. Johnson is hoping to have those bleachers full.