Slipping ‘the surly bonds of earth … put out my hand and touch the face of God’
A Missouri Baptist family mourns the loss of a son
By Barbara Shoun
May 31, 2005
|MAXWELL AFB, Ala. – The late Capt. Todd Bracy holds daughter, Tate, while with him is eife, Tina, and daughter, Tess. This photo was taken while Bracy attended Squadron Officers’ School, Maxwell Air Force Base Ala., in the summer of 2004.|
“Time stopped for me at 12:24 a.m., April 1, when I received the first phone call about my son,” said Ron, pastor, Salem Baptist Church, Florissant.
He, his wife, Judith, daughter, Tonya, and her two sons, Taylor and Timothy, made immediate plans to go to Mildenhall, England, to be with their daughter-in-law, Tina, and their two grand-daughters, Tess and Tate, as they awaited the recovery of Todd’s remains.
Todd was one of two pilots with the 7th Special Operations Squadron, whose MC-130 aircraft crashed on a late night military mission over Albania. None of the nine airmen on board survived. Their bodies were returned to Dover AFB, Del., for burial.
Knowing Todd’s faith in Christ has been a source of comfort to his parents in this trying time.
“My son was a very devout Christian man, and he lived his faith in the way that he had been taught,” said Ron.
“The Bracy men are very similar in the way they think,” Ron observed.
This may have accounted for Todd’s decision to follow his dad into military service.
Father and son served together for three years in the Illinois Air National Guard’s 183rd Fighter Wing. Ron was the 183rd’s chaplain, while Todd was a weapons loader. Working together was nothing new. In 1993 they worked on the river levees during the flood. They also had a lot of fun together driving Jeeps, going to Cardinal baseball games, snow skiing, and on their last visit together in England, they spent several days visiting old castles.
“Todd was a great family man, and simply enjoyed being with his wife and children, and other family members,” Ron said. “One of our most recent memorable times as a family was when all ten of us visited Disney World together in 2001. It was a great time of chaotic fun. We are going to miss Todd greatly.”
Ron graduated from the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., in 1966 and served as a weapons systems operator on the RF-4C jet reconnaissance aircraft for eight years. He flew 183 combat missions during the Vietnam War, 101 of them over North Vietnam. During the Cold War, he spent five years in Europe flying missions in the RF-4C. He later became a security forces operations officer and commanded 125 security forces personnel.
During part of his military career, he deployed to trouble spots throughout the world as an Air Force chaplain. In his last year of military service, Ron was an action officer and analyst working for the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the Pentagon. He was on duty at the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001, when it was hit by the airplane hijacked by Al Queda terrorists. Ron retired with the rank of lieutenant colonel after completing 40 years of service.
He and Judith were proud when their son chose a military career.
“Todd grew up in the military and was part of it,” Ron said.
Todd graduated from Norwich Military College in Vermont in 1992 and enlisted in the Air National Guard’s 183rd Fighter Wing in Springfield, Ill., where he served as a weapons loader on the F-16 fighter aircraft. He attended Southern Illinois University Flight School and graduated as a civilian pilot. In 1997 he graduated from Officer Training School as a second lieutenant and entered the active duty Air Force. He was accepted into pilot school and graduated from Columbus AFB, Miss., as a military pilot in 1998.
Assigned to Offutt AFB, Omaha, Neb., Todd served three years flying military and government officials throughout the world. In 2002, he was assigned to RAF Mildenhall, England, as a member of the 7th Special Operations Squadron.
“With much of what he did, we never knew where he was when he took off,” Ron said.
Todd’s plane suffered considerable damage from enemy fire while serving during Operation: Iraqi Freedom, but he survived and was highly decorated for his missions during the war.
“Todd was a quiet man and exemplified his unit’s unofficial title, ‘The Quiet Professionals,’” Ron said, adding, “he was an outstanding husband to his wife and father to his daughters.”
The trip to England following Todd’s death brought tremendous strain on the family – emotionally, physically, and financially, but God provided comfort and relief in some unique ways.
Jim Breeden, a staff member with St. Louis Metro Baptist Association, felt the Holy Spirit leading him to go to England to be with the Bracy family, as a pastor-to-pastor. God worked through the association to provide the funding for Breeden and a layman, Jordan Fowle, to make the trip. The association also helped with travel expenses for the Bracys’ grandsons.
Ron, who has brought comfort to many others through his work as chaplain and pastor, is appreciative of the way it has been extended to him and his family.
“I really appreciate Jim’s and Jordan’s sensing God’s Holy Spirit leading them and their doing whatever was necessary to be obedient to God’s Spirit,” he said.
“We were grateful that they allowed the Lord to use them. It was good to be with them and talk to them when they were there,” Ron said.
Breeden and Fowle put their words into action by ministering in a very practical way when they washed and detailed one of the vehicles that Tina had to sell.
“Their work on the car,” Ron said, “was very, very meaningful.”
Jim and Jordan have also continued to provide support to the Bracys after their return to Florissant. Jordan helped Tina when she had to purchase an automobile, and Jim has helped with boxes and support in helping to raise some additional funds for their expenses.
Living with the loss of their son is a continuing struggle, requiring adjustments and setting priorities.
“Each day brings another issue that my family has to deal with, so we do that which faces us at the moment,” Ron said. “Even now we have to wait for the June 7 burial service of Todd at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington D.C., as well as a second group burial service in either July or August.”
One of the strengths that God has provided is the strong relationship that exists between Ron and Judith, their daughter Tonya and her family, and their daughter-in-law, Tina and her family.
“God truly blessed us with our daughter and our daughter-in-law,” Ron said. “Without them, this lonely journey would be even more difficult for us. Plus, they also have to deal with their own difficulties because of this tragedy in their own way. So, together we lean on each other and God for support.”
As they walk the painful path, the Bracys are being lifted up in prayer and ministry by their Christian friends, particularly those in their church and in the St. Louis Metro Association.
“We have received literally hundreds of cards, letters, emails, telephone calls, as well as flowers, candies, and gifts, from our friends around the world, and even from people we do not know, but who in some way were touched by Todd’s life and his death” Ron reflected. “The Scripture that says, ‘the humble shall be exalted’ is truly a testimony to Todd.”
Meanwhile, the Bracy baton of service to America has been passed to the next generation. Thaddeus Wood, son of Tonya and David Wood and grandson of Ron and Judith Bracy, is serving in the Army. He is preparing to go to Iraq.