A special flight left the Kansas City International airport Friday morning and its passengers all have one thing in common.
A lot of kids on the Snowball Express trip were so young when they lost their dads that all they knew was he went away on a plane and didn't come back. But Friday, packed into the seats, they were headed on a journey to reconnect with their memories.
It was a party atmosphere as families waited to board the Snowball Express, but the stories behind the special flight are heartbreaking.
"I lost my dad in 2003," said Nathan Leininger, 12, the son of a fallen soldier.
"He had never met his father," Nathan's mother, Robin, said.
Those at KCI for the special trip were wives and children left behind when their soldier was killed, serving after Sept. 11. But now they are getting a break, joining nearly 1,700 family members from across the country for an all-expense paid weekend of fun in Dallas, TX.
"Seeing old friends, the rodeo, the parade," Nathan said as he listed off some of the things he was most excited to see and do.
But most importantly, those participating were excited to connect with others in the same position, like fast friends Jendayah and Lillian.
"We can both talk about our feelings, about how we feel about our dads passing," Lillian Anderson, age 8, said.
These are fathers the youngest ones can barely remember, but don't want to let go. But there are also the older kids who have vivid recollections of dad.
"He would, if his favorite team would score, he would run down the hallways and beat the doors and let everyone know what happened," Cheyane Gelina, age 16, said.
But the memories end there with the painful knowledge that these children's fathers aren't around anymore.
"Not having him there for me, it's really hard," Gelina said.
For all involved, stepping onto the plane at KCI means a chance to honor the family connection that nothing can break.
"I always think when I'm at school, when I'm at home, I always think he's right next to me," Lillian said.
While Friday's flight was packed, there's always room for more on the Snowball Express. Go to snowballexpress.org for more information on getting involved.
Copyright 2012 KCTV (Meredith Corp.) All rights reserved.
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