05.25.2017People

A Gold Star sister and Vietnam Veteran daughter share their greatest gifts: The men they lost

By: Eric Wilkens
Verizon salutes those who serve

Serving one’s country is a tremendous honor. Wearing the uniform? A sacred privilege. But with honor and privilege often comes sacrifice.

Jennifer Short knows that sacrifice all too well. She is a senior analyst in customer service operations in Wireless Customer Care who joined Verizon Wireless in May 1998. She is also a Gold Star Family member.

“I am the proud daughter and sister to three men that served in the United States Marine Corps,” Jennifer said. “My father, Richard A. Johnson Sr., and my two brothers, Richard “Dickie” A. Johnson Jr., and Robert L. Johnson. My brother, Richard, went off to the Vietnam War in October 1968 when I was just 6-years-old. He served as a grenadier with Co. E. Second Battalion, Third Marines, Third Marine Division and was killed in the line of fire on August 10, 1969 during ‘Operation Idaho Canyon.’”

Richard was only 19 years-old when he was killed and he rests at Arlington National Cemetery. He received a Gold Star, the Bronze Star and a Purple Heart. 

Jennifer’s family was devastated by losing her brother, but ultimately their family became stronger, closer and more resilient. When Jennifer was younger, the family would drive four hours every Memorial Day to pay their respects to him. As they grew older, the trips became more challenging so they now honor him by attending their town parade.

“We pay our respects to our brother at the ceremony where a wreath is laid at the base of a monument where his name is etched in gold. Dad in his Semper Fi attire and my mom with her Gold Star,” she said.

Jennifer said that her brother was a hero. His citation reads, “PFC Johnson’s courage, bold initiative and unwavering devotion to duty were instrumental in saving the lives of several of his fellow marines and were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Marine Corps. He gallantly gave his life in the service of his country.” 

The families of Jennifer Short and Tara Calkins are celebrating their loved ones this Memorial Day.

Another employee who has military in her blood is Tara Calkins, a technical customer advocate in Wireless Operations who lost her dad resulting from his military service and Agent Orange exposure during the Vietnam War. Agent Orange was a chemical sprayed from planes and helicopters during the war to kill off foliage.

“Most of the damage from Agent Orange usually presented itself in our soldiers 20 years after exposure.  My dad was one of those soldiers. He woke up one morning, stepped out of bed, and broke his hip. That is how we found out,” Tara said.

She added, “I was newly pregnant, and spent the entire pregnancy working, then driving the hour drive to the hospital. I would arrive just after dinner, so I always stopped and got his favorite ice cream and we would sit and talk for hours. Those times were special.”

Tara’s dad passed away less than two months before her son was born.  His funeral was with full honors at Arlington National Cemetery on July 3, 1994. Tara shared, “I was such a daddy’s girl. We were very close.  Even when I had moved from Maryland to Texas, we made our lunch break at the same time, so that my dad could call, and we would talk the entire time. Our entire family is close. The military made us that way.”

Reminders of Tara’s dad are everywhere. Her now grown and married son wears as his wedding ring, a ring that Tara gave to her dad one Christmas as a gift. Tara said, “I wasn’t able to introduce him to my son, so his sonogram is in my father’s breast pocket.” 

Tara takes comfort knowing that military families like hers are esteemed by Verizon and encouraged to seek employment here.

“I think military families would find Verizon very appealing,” Tara said. “I know when my dad was in the military, he felt comfortable that his family was taken care of. I think Verizon allows those feelings to continue on to civilian life. We have wonderful health benefits. We are a family-oriented company. I feel that Verizon allows a military person to feel that same type of pride. And we are a company that we all should be very proud to work for.”

Jennifer feels similarly, knowing that Verizon employees more than 10,000 veterans and is consistently ranked as a top military employer.

Verizon is privileged to have so many amazing employees who currently do serve or have served our nation and we’re indebted to our Verizon employees whose families have sacrificed to serve and protect. We honor and remember those who paid the ultimate sacrifice this Memorial Day.

You can find us at numerous military recruiting events.  Above all, we thank you for your service.

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