Operation Happily Ever After: Giving Back by Paying Forward

By Connie Barnard

Operation Happily Ever After: Giving Back by Paying Forward

Angie Eggleston and her husband, Wayne, are living examples of goodness growing out of grief. Theirs is a rare and multi-layered love story which reaches beyond personal tragedy, even beyond the grave, to embrace hundreds of total strangers.

Aiken native Angie Boone Eggleston met her husband when they were both on active duty in the U.S. Air Force. The couple spent over half their 20 year careers in Joint Special Operations at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Theirs was a typical dual-career life of juggling home, parenthood and work until a day in June, 1997, when their 16 year-old son, Chris, did not come home from school. For five days hundreds joined police in searching for the boy until two Special Operations soldiers found his body, tied with rope, buried in a shallow grave behind his high school. A 17 year-old classmate was charged with their son’s murder and, a month later, a 16 year-old girl was charged with masterminding the crime.

During these excruciating days, the entire Fort Bragg and Fayetteville community wrapped its arms around Angie and Wayne, holding and supporting the devastated couple with acts of kindness that continue even to this day. Somehow they survived the initial shock, the investigations, the trials and even a jury’s 11-1 deadlock of one of the accused. Angie says, “Even today, we still can’t believe it happened. You think you know everything going on in your child’s life. It can happen to anyone. Without our faith and the overwhelming support of friends and strangers, we would not have survived.”

Two years after Chris’s death, Angie and Wayne retired from the Air Force and moved to Myrtle Beach where Angie had spent many happy days in her youth. Wayne took a position with Strand Media Group, then later opened his own business, Wayne’s View Photography. He and Angie work together in the firm which specializes in weddings, family portraits, senior class pictures and other happy events.

Little by little, time and the Myrtle Beach sunshine helped lift the fog of despair lodged deeply in their souls. Finally rounding a bend in their lifelong journey through grief, Angie often remembered the amazing gestures of kindness and support they had received throughout the ordeal, especially from those in the Fort Bragg Special Operations area. Over weeks and months, she and Wayne began to talk about finding ways to step outside their grief, show their appreciation to the military community and keep the memory of their son alive. Gradually, a grand idea took shape, one which would focus on a happy event and provide the opportunity to pay it forward to those currently in uniform.

Soon their idea became reality: a nonprofit project named “Operation Happily Ever After,” which will provide a Myrtle Beach dream wedding for a lucky military couple. Drawing on their experience as wedding photographers and their contacts with other wedding professionals, Angie began contacting local vendors, asking them to donate their time and skills for this good cause. The Egglestons were amazed at the generous and enthusiastic response they received. With the exception of the rings and dress, everything will be provided, including the wedding ceremony, transportation, a reception with all the trimmings, luxury beachfront resort accommodations for the wedding party and a three-night honeymoon stay. At the same time, Operation Happily Ever After will raise awareness and funds to help support a carefully selected non-profit organization which assists military members and their families. Here’s how it will work:

As of June 1st any active duty bride and/or groom can enter the contest via its website: www.OperationHappilyEverAfter.org. Within 72 hours participants will be contacted by phone regarding eligibility. If qualified, they can register and start receiving votes right away. Friends and family members can vote by pledging $1 per vote, with 100% of all proceeds going to the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund. The contest web site will display a running tally of votes until the contest ends at midnight on January 31st, and the winner will be announced on February 15, 2011.

On Sept. 10, 2011, the lucky couple’s dream wedding will take place on the beach in front of the Sea Watch Resort which has also generously offered to host the reception site, lodging for the wedding party and a three-night honeymoon stay. Local businesses have stepped forward to offer such services as the bride’s arrival by horse drawn carriage, officiating of the ceremony, the wedding cake (which will be decorated during the reception), an ice sculpture, photographers, a videographer, a disc jockey and an artist who will paint a portrait of the bride and groom live during the reception. “We are simply overwhelmed at the response we have received,” says Angie. “Even a website design company and a local attorney have provided their services pro bono to help insure we are doing everything properly. So many generous and caring people have stepped forward to offer their time and talents, and others are contacting us every day. We invite any interested businesses to get in touch with us through the website. Our goal is to make this an annual, nationwide event.”

Angie and Wayne Eggleston

For Angie and Wayne, the most challenging task has not been finding businesses and individuals to donate services but selecting the recipient of funds raised by the project. Early on, Angie and Wayne wisely determined that their time and efforts would be best served by donating the project’s proceeds to a well-established and respected military charity. They spent much time learning about a number of national military nonprofit organizations before narrowing it down to four. Then they looked closely at each organization, examining the specific cause it serves and how its funds are used. All were worthy, but ultimately the Egglestons selected the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund which received an A+ rating from the American Institute of Philanthropy and the designation “Best in America” by Independent Charities of America. One hundred percent of the Fund’s contributions go directly to its programs with all administrative expenses underwritten by the fund’s trustees. The Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund was established in 2000 to provide financial support to the dependents of US military personnel lost in the performance of duty.

In 2005, the Fund began directing its priorities to the needs of returning wounded warriors, particularly those suffering from traumatic brain injury. It has become a leading force in this area, currently building a 72,000 square foot advanced facility in Bethesda, Maryland, dedicated to brain injury research, diagnosis and treatment as well as educational programs for affected military families.

For the Egglestons, life will always have a bittersweet edge. Nothing can ever change that. However, by holding on to one another and moving beyond personal pain, Angie and Wayne have created a living tribute to their son which will provide a dream come true for one special couple and lend assistance to countless members of the military community which was there for them in their darkest hour. The Operation Happily Ever After logo aptly symbolizes each of these: a military dog tag on a metal chain intertwined with a pair of wedding rings, one bearing the discreet engraved initials of their beloved son Chris.

To learn more about this project or offer assistance, visit www.OperationHappilyEverAfter.org. To learn more about the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund, visit www.fallenheroesfund.org.

About this writer

  • Connie BarnardConnie Barnard traveled the world as a military wife and taught high school and college composition for over 30 years. She has been a regular contributor to Sasee since its first issue in 2002.

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One Response to “Operation Happily Ever After: Giving Back by Paying Forward”

  1. Wayne says:

    Update: Custom Wedding Bands are now included for the winning couple!
    THANK YOU Connie &Sasee!

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