USO, Sandals Grants Honeymoon Wish for Military Family

The happy family!

Jennifer Burnett married the man of her dreams.

After a whirlwind romance, she and Army Spc. Bryan Burnett rushed to wed in a courtroom ceremony in the spring of 2010, just before his pending deployment. The newlyweds weren’t able to celebrate with a honeymoon.

“Ever since then we’ve been praying and trying to plan a ‘real’ wedding with our families, but have not been able to afford it,” Jennifer said. “I was eight months pregnant when he shipped off, and it was so hard those first months as a parent without him.”

Bryan returned home after 10 months in Afghanistan to meet his son, Bentley, for the first time. But he’d missed all of the firsts. First steps, first anniversaries and everything else that goes with being a new father.

“It seems we have been in a rut since he returned,” she wrote in her submission essay to the USO in an effort to win a Sandals WeddingMoon vacation. “It would be a dream come true for us to have both of our families together to witness the renewal of our vows, and to see the genuine love we have for one another and our pride and joy, Bentley.”

The Burnetts were selected—along with more than 20 other military families—to attend a star-studded, interactive bridal experience at Grand Central Terminal in New York City. The event was hosted by Sandals Resorts and special guest emcee, Randy Fenoli, star of TLC’s “Say Yes to the Dress” and “Randy to the Rescue.”

The main event was dubbed the Ultimate Bouquet Toss, where the sea of military brides gathered behind Fenoli for a chance to win them their dream WeddingMoon, as well as a wedding dress and tuxedo. Maria Yates—who traveled all the way from Fort Dix, N.J., with her husband, Jason, a member of the Air Force—caught the bouquet.

For a brief moment, the Burnetts were disappointed they didn’t win the grand prize. But that disappointment quickly turned into elation when the USO and Sandals Resorts made their dreams come true anyway. Sandals Chairman Gordon “Butch” Stewart and CEO Adam Stewart took the stage after the toss and surprised all the military couples in attendance with the gift of a free honeymoon.

“Everyone went crazy,” Jennifer said. “It caught us totally by surprise. We were excited just to get the trip to New York City. Bryan had just returned from a second deployment to Afghanistan, so it was the first time we really got to spend any time together.”

The couple chose to have their honeymoon at Sandals Royal Plantation in Jamaica.

“It’s nice to see companies like Sandals and organizations like the USO willing to do things like this for us,” Bryan said. “There are probably so many other couples more deserving, but we can’t thank Sandals and the USO enough for this. You truly made our dream come true.” – Joseph Andrew Lee, USO Staff Writer

Congratulations to TODAY’s Modern Wedding Couple!

Melissa McMillin and Jeremy Gebhardt got married on Rockefeller Plaza on Sept. 30. (Photo from today.msnbc.msn.com)

They became high school sweethearts three years ago and today they got married live on the TODAY show!  Melissa McMillin, 21, and Jeremy Gebhardt, 22, celebrated their union at Rockefeller Plaza after having won TODAY’s Modern Love Wedding competition.

But here’s the cool part: the groom applied via Skype while deployed to Bagram, Afghanistan!  Gebhardt is a senior airman in the U.S. Air Force, stationed in Anchorage, Alaska.  Most of the past three years, however, have seen the couple parted by tours of duty to Iraq and Afghanistan.

Once they learned they were the couple chosen – via Facebook voting – to receive an all-expenses-paid wedding, it was up to TODAY Show viewers to decide every last detail of the wedding, from the ring to the dress to the cake.  McMillan and Gebhardt didn’t mind at all.  “I think they’re all gorgeous,” Gebhardt told the TODAY show audience when viewing his bride’s ring choices from Afghanistan. “Any of these would be more than I could ask for.”

Their application videos say it all: ““We have waited three long years for each other and I’ve dreamt of the day that I can finally say, ‘Hi! I’m Melissa Gebhardt,’” McMillan said.  “If anyone deserves this, it should be [Melissa],” said Gebhardt, “…I can’t tell you how many tears she has cried or how many nights she has lost sleep worried about me or waiting for me to come home. I love her with all my heart.”

Join us in sending “congratulations” to this wonderful couple.  You can watch the entire ceremony below!

The USO Dance That Changed His Life

Today we celebrate Military Spouse Appreciation Day.  And our guest blogger tells the kind of tale that we love at the USO, and it seems especially appropriate with Mother’s Day coming up on Sunday.

Earl Ladewig was a young soldier heading into World War II when a chance encounter at the USO changed his life.  This is his story…

Earl and Freda Ladewig on their wedding day, May 18, 1942.

I was drafted into service on Nov 7, 1941 from Harvey, IL.  I was sent to Cheyenne, Wyo for basic training.  On Jan 1, 1942 I was sent to Lowry AFB, Denver, Co.  The greatest impact that Denver had on me was this:  I rode into town on the Colfax streetcar, and as we passed the capitol building and headed downhill to Broadway there was the City & County building of Denver lit up in all its Holiday splendor.  I had never seen a sight like that before. (Never around Chicago, were I grew up)   About two weeks after my arrival in Denver I read a notice, on the bulletin board, that the USO was sponsoring a Square Dance at the University of Colorado campus near Colorado Blvd.  I had been a square dancer for several years and loved it, and I knew that people who square danced were friendly outgoing people.  The dance was scheduled for 17 January.  I decided to go, and go I did.  During the dance I met 3 sisters who were volunteers for the USO trying to do good for the lonely servicemen.  One sister, “Freda” was exceptionally friendly and I danced almost every dance in their square.

During our talking I learned that the girls were also scheduled to attend ballroom dancing at the old Rainbow ballroom (USO sponsored).  I indicated that I would try to be there also.  I went to the dance (18 January 1942, also my 23rd birthday).  Lo and behold two of the sisters were there but Freda was not.  I was disappointed, because it seemed we were very compatible.   However, Freda had told her sisters that if I was there they were to bring me home.  (The sisters didn’t tell me why Freda wasn’t there.)  When they told me Freda asked them to bring me home, I jumped at the chance.  Turns out Freda had a date and skipped the dance.  (Incidentally I had a girl back home whom I had asked to marry me, but she said we needed to wait until I got back from service.)

So to make a long story short, I started visiting with Freda and her family every night, always had supper with them.  Freda and I became very close friends.  After we became extra close while visiting Cheesman park in April 1942, I asked her to marry me.  She hesitated and so I told her I should think about it.  A week later I asked her again and she said yes. (At this point I did not feel I had a commitment to the girl back home, these were two different personalities and Freda’s by far was most compatible to me.)  At about this time I learned that our company, to which I was assigned at Lowry, was going to be shipped out, had no idea where. (Remember WWII started on December 7, 1941)  Freda set the date to be married on May 18, 1942. (Later I learned it was her mother’s birthday.)  It was such that “We would get married on he 18th if I was still here, otherwise we would wait.”  We did get married on the 18th of May 1942 and I shipped out on the 6th of June 1942. I had a 3-day pass and we spent our honeymoon in Colorado Springs. Our company was sent to Fairbanks Alaska.

Freda and I had nine children, seven of whom are still living.  Freda died in 1996. The 54 years we had together was a wonderful loving experience.  I wish every day that Freda was still with us.   And although I know I am forgetful these days, I can not remember Freda and I ever having an argument or saying cross words to one another.

Our children are grown now, and believe me, they are a true blessing to me at age 91. just as their mother was for 54 years.

I THANK THE USO FOR MAKING IT POSSIBLE FOR ME TO MEET FREDA. – Earl

Over 300 Brides Find the Gowns of Their Dreams!

USO New England and Vows Bridal Outlet teamed up for the “G.I. Gown Giveaway,” ensuring that over 300 women received a gorgeous wedding gown…for free!  The first of what will hopefully become many annual events, this giveaway was especially meaningful for USO New England Executive Director Jean Mallon.  “We wanted each bride to feel special,” Mallon said. “Not only is it an exciting practical gift for military families and brides-to-be, but it also boosts morale.”  Check out a photo gallery of the gown giveaway goings on: