How September 11 Led to the Foundation of MarineParents.com, Inc.
September 11 marks the anniversary of the single largest loss of life from a foreign attack on American soil, ever. Almost 3,000 people lost their lives on that Tuesday morning, and over 7,000 brave Americans have sacrificed everything in the resultant military operations.
Rarely does an event have such wide-reaching and impactful consequences, but no one in our country was able to escape September 11, 2001, unscathed in some way. In the years since, we have become more acutely aware of our place in the world and of the fact that many people want to cause us harm solely for being American. We've changed how we view the world and how the world views us. We ensured our national security became a national obsession (and for good reason). We also saw our military engage in conflicts in two countries, first in Afghanistan, and then in Iraq, to do just that. In short, September 11 upset the balance of the country in a way not seen in decades.
However, despite the overwhelming sense of tragedy inflicted by the events on September 11, in the days and weeks after the attacks, around the country, other emotions began to manifest themselves as well. Pride. Hope. Unity. Resilience. A desire to help our fellow man. And while she didn't know it at the time, the combination of those same emotions and the tragic events of September 11 would go on to inspire one "Marine Mom" to make a difference in the lives of thousands.
The Day Her World Turned Upside Down
September 11, 2001, started like any other Tuesday for Marine Parents Founder and Executive Director Tracy Della Vecchia. She was on her way home from dropping her daughter off at school when the initial reports began coming in over the radio and, like so many of us, was unsure of what had happened. When she arrived home and turned on the TV, speculation was that American Airlines Flight 11 had crashed into World Trade center Tower 1 by accident. Shortly thereafter, United Airlines Flight 175 slammed into WTC Tower 2, and it became evident that we were under attack. Della Vecchia dropped to her knees and stared at the television in disbelief, tears streaming down her face, when she had a sudden realization--and one of every mothers' worst nightmares--"We're going to war," she thought, "my son is going to war."
Two weeks prior to September 11, Tracy's son Derrick Jensen had set out on the path to fulfilling his lifelong dream of being a United States Marine and had left for Recruit Training at MCRD San Diego. At the time, Della Vecchia hadn't been worried--America wasn't at war with anyone and becoming a Marine had been Derrick's dream since he was four years old and would put on his grandfather's combat boots and crawl around their yard playing war.
Now, watching the towers come down and realizing that not only were we likely going to war, but that the Marines are "first to fight," Della Vecchia's motherly instinct to protect her son kicked in. "If I could have, I would have flown to San Diego that day, grabbed him by the ear, and told him he's coming home, immediately, and that he'd made a big mistake," Della Vecchia says, "but, of course, I couldn't."
As the fall wore on, Tracy worked on coming to terms with Derrick going to war while across the country, there was an upswell in national pride. Overt displays of patriotism became commonplace. "That was a great fall," Della Vecchia says, "it was a red, white, and blue fall, not a yellow and orange one." As she drove Derrick home from the airport after his Recruit Training graduation, Della Vecchia took notice of the multitude of American flags being flown along the highway. She looked at her son, barely out of high school and now on the verge of putting his life on the line for his country, and told him, "These flags are flying for you." "Don't worry mom," he told her, "we've got this. This is what the Marines are for."
A Place to Connect and Share,
A Place to Provide Support
Fast forward to January of 2003. As Derrick prepared to deploy to Iraq, Tracy began to search the internet for an online community of parents in the same situation to connect with. When she couldn't find one, she put her years of working as a web-developer to use and built one, and on January 21, MarineParents.com was launched. By March of that year, the website was nationally known.
At first, MarineParents.com served primarily as an online community to meet other Marine parents and to provide information on the Corps to them. That changed one day when, while going into the Columbia, Missouri Post Office (the site of Columbia's weekly anti-war protests), a peace-protestor recognized Tracy from a local news story and told her that her son was, "no better than a Nazi" for going to Iraq. At that moment, Della Vecchia determined that MarineParents.com's new mission was to support the troops in any way necessary because there were clearly people out there who, in her words, "just didn't get it."
The "it" Della Vecchia was referring to was that supporting the troops was not the same as supporting the war. At the time, the phrase "support the troops" was often seen as a political statement, a notion Della Vecchia wanted to change. "There's nothing political about supporting the troops," she says, "and fortunately, the majority of the country adopted that same mentality." "Support the troops" became Marine Parents' mantra, and set in motion the foundation of the organization's numerous outreach programs.
In the years since its foundation, MarineParents.com, Inc. has grown exponentially, while never straying from its mission to "support the troops." The organization has sent more than 35,000 care packages to troops deployed in combat zones, has served over 27,000 meals to wounded service members and their families, and invested over $3 million in delivering direct support to our Marines, their families and other military personnel, with over half that invested in the last two years, among other things.
"I really didn't expect it to reach such heights," Tracy says of the website and organization she founded, "it was founded as "a place to connect and share" (a phrase Della Vecchia uses frequently when describing how the organization came to be) and people responded to it."
21 years ago, watching the Twin Towers collapse, it would have been impossible for Tracy to imagine the path her life would soon be heading down. She didn't realize it at the time, but she was at what she now refers to as a "fork in the road" and the events of September 11 sent her down the Marine Parents path. "It's divine intervention," Della Vecchia says, "I really do believe it's God's hand working through me."
After nearly two decades of working tirelessly and displaying an endless commitment to supporting our troops, thousands of people whose lives she's touched would surely agree.
Almost 20 years later and MarineParents.com is still providing information and support for our troops and their families. The landscape has changed. We no longer have troops in Afghanistan and we are happy that our service members will get to be home with their families. However, these brave men and women will still need support now that they're home. And we will be here for them, always.
Our heart breaks for the ones who never made it home and for the loved ones of those who gave the ultimate sacrifice. We want you to know that you are not alone. We will continue to work to ensure that Gold Star Families are honored and that the sacrifice their loved one made will never be forgotten.
Even through a pandemic, our mission to support our troops and their loved ones will continue. Our resolve is stronger than ever. And no matter where our troops are; whether they're fighting for our freedoms in other countries, or preparing for a fight in the future; we will be here for them.
September 11, 2013 (edited Sept. 5, 2022)
Written by: Collin Hoeferlin