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"Gold Star parents remember their son"

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Story by Lance Davis on 05/29/2018
CAMP ZAMA, Japan (May 29, 2018) Oct. 1, 2009 was a normal day for Wendy Holland. It began with seeing her husband, 1st Sgt. Will Holland, assigned to the U.S. Army Recruiting Battalion in Nashville, Tn., off to work. She also saw her 11-year-old son, Logan, off to school.

Her day continued with a visit to the gym and running numerous errands.

Later that afternoon, she was leaving the grocery store to meet Logan who had arrived home early.

To Wendy's surprise, Logan told her that two men had been to their home looking for her.

"Why did you answer the door?" Wendy asked her son.

"You know you're not supposed to open the door," she said.

"Well, they were dressed like Dad," Logan responded. "I thought they were looking for Dad!"

As Wendy held the groceries tightly in her arms, she screamed as tears began to roll down her face. Logan started to cry as well.

She quickly realized the Soldiers had not come to their home about her husband.

In her heart, she knew it was about their older son, Robert Sanchez, a Soldier deployed in Afghanistan.

Wendy called her husband immediately to tell him what was going on.

After speaking with the rear detachment for Robert's unit, Will told his wife she had to open the door and talk to the men. That was the only way they could find out what happened because she was the point of contact listed for Robert's next of kin.

Wendy pulled herself together as she heard the knocks. She opened the door for two Soldiers. One was a chaplain wearing dress blues, and the other one had on dress greens.

The news she received from the two men changed their family's life forever.

Sgt. Robert Daniel Sanchez, 24, was killed Oct. 1, 2009 in Kandahar Province, Afghanistan by an improvised explosive device after he and his squad had finished a combat mission.

Robert was assigned to the U.S. Army's B Company, 1st Battalion 75th Ranger Regiment, based out of Hunter Army Airfield in Savannah, Ga., serving as an automatic rifleman and team leader.

At the time of his death, he was on his fifth deployment with three previous deployments to Iraq and one to Afghanistan.

"He died doing what he loved," says Wendy. "For someone to do their job, love it and die is giving whole heartedly."

Robert, a native of Miami, was brought back to Satellite Beach, Fla. for his funeral and burial.

This place was significant to his parents because he graduated from Satellite Senior High School in 2004, enlisting in the Army that summer.

Although the overwhelming support from the community celebrating Robert as a hero who sacrificed for his country was appreciated, Wendy sees his death no differently from anyone else who has lost a child.

"I don't care how you lose your child," says Wendy. "It's the worst thing in the world."

Will describes their loss as life changing.

"You can't prepare for it. You can't train for it," he says.

"When you go through something like this, it changes everything."

Wendy admits she was very upset and headed to a dark place in the aftermath of her son's death.

"What was his sacrifice for? People don't even care," Wendy says, recalling her thoughts that were out of her anger, sadness and pain.

She gives much credit to her husband for helping her come towards the light again to cope with her agony.

"I was messed up in the head and probably needed major counseling" she says.

"He kept me in the gym and busy."

Will made dealing with his wife's grief a priority over his own out of concern for her.

"I don't think I really thought about me grieving for a couple of years because I was too worried about her," he says.

"I had to keep her focused and busy. Yes, we all love Rob, and it's tragic that he's gone, but we still had a son at home and three other children."

Will told Wendy he was willing to retire from the Army to be at home with her but she said no to his offer.

"Rob wouldn't have wanted him to get out," she says.

Will continued his Army career, currently serving as command sergeant major of U.S. Army Garrison Japan.

"We were excited when we got orders to come to Japan because Rob always wanted to come here," says Wendy.

More than eight years later, the Hollands remain strong, keeping the memory of their son alive.

"We remember him by talking about him," says Will.

He also wears an Airborne Ranger in the Sky bracelet. Will says he has only taken it off once for a medical procedure.

Wendy keeps her family's home with lots of Rob's photos and memorabilia, including his formal uniform he had while in Afghanistan.

"My house is like a shrine to Rob," she says. "I asked my younger son (Logan) if he thought it was weird and he said Mom, it would be weird if it wasn't.'"

On Oct. 1, 2017, Wendy and a group of women from the Camp Zama community participated in a walk to honor Robert's memory.

They walked eight miles around the installation, placing a flag at every mile to represent each year since Robert's death.

"It doesn't upset me to talk about my son," says Wendy.

She describes her son as someone who was very handsome, extremely intelligent, and so full of life, with a love for his family, friends and all people.

Wendy says she was so happy the family was able to celebrate Robert's 24th birthday on July 19, 2009 before he deployed. This was the first and last birthday they celebrated with him since he had joined the Army.

She also defines her late son as a true patriot for America, remembering how the events of 911 first inspired his interest in joining the military when he was only in middle school.

"We have to be proud of our son for becoming a Soldier," she says. "How can we not be?"

The Hollands were married on Memorial Day weekend 20 years ago. This weekend is bittersweet for them.

They gain a year of marriage, but they mourn the loss of their son.

Since their son's death, this is the first year the Hollands have celebrated their anniversary because they believe this is what he would want.

The Hollands say Memorial Day is more than a holiday.

They truly understand the familiar phrase "all gave some and some gave all" because it hits home.

This is why they remember their son on this day and every day.

"Rob gave the ultimate sacrifice because he loved his country so much," says Wendy.

"How many of us can say we'll die doing what we love?"


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