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Unearthing Memories of Thomas Meyer at MCAS Yuma

With the beginning of a New Year, a former Yuma family has found a new sense of closure.

This Fall, KAWC met a family with a story tinged in tragedy.

During an intimate event at MCAS-Yuma on Halloween, The Meyer family unearthed a treasure trove of memories, left buried in honor of Thomas Meyer.

Thomas, aged 16, the eldest son of the family, on Nov. 1, 1996, was killed by a motorist while riding his bicycle just outside the main gates at MCAS Yuma.

His little brothers and sisters were devastated, including Francine Hall – just 8-years-old at the time.

“The vehicle did not see him and that's how he passed away,” she said. “I was coming home from school. I saw the accident when I was coming onto the base from the bus, so we were all on our way home when it happened.”

Just one day prior, Francine had spent her last holiday with her eldest brother.

“The night before he passed away we went trick or treating which our family never did, but that memory is forever in my head -- seeing him passing out the candy and smiling at all of us," she said.

The family already had to face the possibility that the patriarch of the family – Michael Meyer, an active-duty Marine – could be killed in service to his country.

But Thomas went first.

This was a tragedy no one had prepared for.

"It's hard when someone 16 is the one who passed [away],” said Francine, now 34. “But, he truly left an impression."

Reeling from that loss, the family – five years later – also lost Michael. He had retired from the Marine Corps as a Gunnery Sergeant, after 20 years of service, and joined the Yuma County Sheriff’s Office.

Michael, a senior deputy, was killed in the line of duty the afternoon of August 13th, 2001. He had been driving his patrol vehicle on Highway 95, near Yuma Proving Ground, during a heavy rainstorm. His vehicle hydroplaned and rolled over. Michael was pronounced dead at the scene.

The other members of the Meyer family -- his wife, Penny; sons, Jacob and Wayne; and daughters, Charlene , Francine and Kathlene – survived to deal with the emotional scars. The kids grew up and started families of their own, dispersing across the country.

On Halloween, the surviving family members reunited at MCAS Yuma to remember their brother, and to find the healing that had alluded them for many years.

Sealed beneath the ground, were three large tubes labeled family, school, and station. Within each were found a flood of memories, pictures, letters, poems, heartbreak and remembrance.

Family members were surprised with how many members of the community Thomas had impacted during his life, especially his fellow students at Kofa High School, who had prepared one of the capsules.

“It's just great to see,” Francine said. “Over the last year, we had created a Facebook group and people who went to school with him, church friends, [and] people who didn't know him, but knew people who knew him, reached out. It's been hard, but so rewarding to know the impact he had on everybody’s life.”

With those memories came healing she says it took nearly three decades to find.

"Our family had a lot of hard things our father passed away five years after Thomas passed away, and we were never quite the same, probably until this weekend," Francine said. "The hurt never goes away. The emotions never go away. But people can grieve and heal in their own time. It maybe took [our family] a little bit longer, but it's amazing to see the five of us with my mom and my grandparents here.”

Now, the park stands as a memorial to Thomas -- and the struggle of the Meyer family. The Thomas Meyer Memorial Park is located on about 14 acres of desert land, which has been converted to an irrigated grassy park, and includes a little league field, and memorial area.

MCAS Yuma Commanding Officer, Charles Dudik, said the Marines now serving on the base are grateful for the opportunity to continually pay their respects to the Meyer Family, and to live in a community which places such value on service. They declined to speak on tape to allow the family to speak for their brother.

“I just want to thank the base for allowing us to come to the base, who put this together to begin with and named the park after him," Francine said. "It was never done before. This is the first time a civilian received this honor and I'm truly thankful for the base staff who do not know him who continued to keep it clean, kept building it, and to the captain who helped my brother get everything ready for us today.”