Mariann Main: Stories of sacrifice, courage


The events of the past seven days have been unspeakable. The San Bernardino massacre, which claimed 14 lives, continues to unfold as a tragedy of epic proportion and the ultimate workplace nightmare. How a longtime employee could methodically execute his fellow co-workers at a departmental Christmas celebration is beyond comprehension.

Americans, who are already hesitant to visit a movie theater, attend college classes, visit Planned Parenthood, pray in church with a Bible study class, enjoy a concert or dine at a Paris sidewalk café, now must worry about acts of terrorism within their workplace. The world has truly gone mad.

Shannon Johnson, age 45, was a Georgia native and one of the 14 killed in the Dec. 2 massacre. He “took the bullet” and shielded co-worker Denise Peraza from suffering more severe injuries or possibly death. “I’ve got you” were his last words, as he wrapped his arms around her.

Johnson’s girlfriend, Mandy Pifer, ironically serves as a crisis counselor for the Los Angeles County Response Team. After meeting online three years earlier, the couple planned to marry next month.

Instead, Pifer will be accompanying Johnson’s body back to Georgia. Johnson will be buried next to his father, who died about 30 years ago, when he shielded a co-worker from an act of workplace violence.

Pifer stated that Johnson often commented on enjoying his job, working for the San Bernardino County Department of Public Health due to “the diversity” of his co-workers. She mentioned his “friendly conversations” about religion with his co-worker and fellow restaurant inspector, who ultimately became one of the two workplace executioners.

The other 13 lives lost in this tragedy have equally as poignant stories. However, the last haunting words of Shannon Johnson are eerily similar to those of Todd Beamer. Beamer and a group of fellow passengers charged the cockpit of Flight 93 in an attempt to regain control of the ill-fated flight on Sept. 11, 2001. Beamer’s “let’s roll” words of confidence and reassurance will be forever associated with that monumentally tragic day. “I’ve got you” now shall have equally poignant meaning, originating from another act of terrorism against America.

As 2015 concludes, I have angst as to my seeming lack of achievement within the last 365 days in comparison to the recent accomplishment of former Navy Seal Chris Ring. After six months and 2,300 miles, the 10-year military veteran completed his journey of swimming the entire length of the Mississippi River — to bring awareness and recognition to America’s “Gold Star” families.

Despite the status-sounding name, this is a designation no military family aims to acquire. “Gold Star” families are those Americans who have lost a member while their loved one served in active military combat.

Ring, age 28, began his journey June 6, where the Mississippi River begins as a small tributary from Lake Itasca, Minnesota. Ring’s mission ended Friday, Dec. 4, where the Mississippi River flows into the Gulf of Mexico, at Head of Passes, Louisiana.

Along the way, he met numerous “Gold Star” families in the 10 states where the river traverses. Many of those same families converged onto a riverboat last Friday to celebrate and welcome Ring as he finished this Herculean goal.

Covering 16-20 miles daily, Ring had lost 20 pounds by the midway point of the swim. Despite his Navy Seal background, Ring trained during the four months prior to his “Mission on the Mississippi” since he previously deemed himself a marginal swimmer. He was accompanied by two kayaks which, by trip’s end, were covered with the names of “Gold Star” families whom he had met during the long journey.

Both his father and Justin Renken, a Mississippi River guide, accompanied Ring, each in a kayak. Ring cited the need to recognize “the ultimate sacrifice these families have paid.”

Sponsored by “Legacies Alive,” Ring stated that meeting with “Gold Star” members allowed them to remember those who were lost, and “to say their names again.” It also allowed Ring “to hear the legacy of the families.”

Minnesota resident Marianne Panno met Ring early during his swim. Panno’s son, Ronald, was killed in 1969 while serving in Vietnam. Now nearing 80, Panno appreciated Ring’s efforts for fallen military from all wars, and the opportunity to show Ring photos of her son who died nearly 50 years earlier.

Thank you, Chris Ring, for your valiant and successful mission to increase awareness of these deserving military families who have paid the “ultimate sacrifice.” Inevitably more families will become “Gold Star” members and join this grievous alliance, as acts of terrorism and warfare continue, both in the United States and worldwide.

And finally — should readers know my mother, Maxine Main, a resident of the Sarah Moore Home, please wish her a “happy birthday!” as she celebrates this upcoming event, Saturday, Dec. 12. Her age will remain a secret!

Mariann Main

Local Answers to Life’s Questions

Mariann Main is a Delaware native and journalism undergraduate of The Ohio State University. Her late father, Max Main, was a U.S. Coast Guard member stationed in Greenland during World War II. She can be contacted at [email protected].

No posts to display