By Cpl. Jennifer Pirante, 1st Marine Expeditionary Force
Laura Froehlich, an Air Force veteran and dedicated patriot, was known as the “Flag Mama.” For more than 10 years, when the nation called for Marines and sailors to depart March Air Reserve Base to deploy to Iraq or Afghanistan, she was on call to say goodbye and greet them upon return. Without fail.
Several hundred military men and women in uniform gathered to repay their respect during her memorial at the Riverside National Cemetery Friday.
“The troops knew I would be there,” Froehlich said during an interview as part of the ceremony’s video presentation.
Marines, airmen and family members remembered Froehlich for the devotion she showed to America’s military service members during the decade before her death Aug. 1 at age 63. She was chairwoman of the Moreno Valley Chamber of Commerce Military Affairs Committee and backed by countless volunteers who assisted in providing millions of sandwiches, snacks and thousands of hugs to departing and returning troops.
Many Marines and sailors were greeted upon return from numerous deployments.
“From the opening moments of this conflict, it was her mission to make sure each and every young soldier that passed through hangar number 385 would know that there was nation behind them who prayed for them as they departed and rejoiced over them upon their return,” said Air Force Chaplain Col. Steve O’Brien, 4th Air Force chaplain at March Air Reserve Base, Calif.
During the video, Freohlich recalled being present during more than 4,000 flights in and out of March Air Reserve Base. Among the more than 2,000 attendees at the ceremony were hundred of Marines who had met and hugged her numerous times. Approximately 100 of those Marines served and currently serve with I Marine Expeditionary Force.
“A wise person once said, ‘the ultimate expression of generosity is not in giving of what you have, but in giving of who you are,’” said Lt. General Thomas D. Waldhauser, commanding general of I MEF and he Marine Corps Forces Central Command. “Most certainly, Laura did just this by bidding farewell or greeting those service members departing or returning from Iraq or Afghanistan.”
Marines recalled seeing the “Flag Mama” in patriotic outfits and eager to hug every Marine and sailor coming off the plane. She is the founder of hangar 385, which is a place she created for the troops to relax, eat snacks and watch movies.
“Simply put, all the Marines love Laura,” Waldhauser said. “Dedicating herself to caring for our service members, she invested freely both her time and attention, which was nothing short of devotion. The simple, yet significant impact she had on the lives of thousands over the years cannot be overstated.”
In place of a guest book for attendees to sign, the family displayed large photographs of her with Marines, family, and former President George W. Bush during his visit to March Air Reserve Base in 2004. Thousands of guests signed the photos, which are to be displayed throughout the base and the family’s home.