Together We Heal

Authors: Kristi Stolzenberg , Kari Marine

It’s become something of a tradition for Kari Marine, the surviving sister of veteran U.S. Army Sergeant Donald Marine, to gather with friends, family, and fellow survivors at the Highground Veterans Memorial Park. The park is a place of beauty and comfort for Kari because there is a bench there in the Persian Gulf Tribute that bears her brother’s name. From a birdseye view, Donald’s bench and the surrounding benches form a bootprint, which — among other things — is a metaphor for walking with you (whether service member, veteran, or survivor), not past you. And, appropriately enough, it was at Kari’s annual TAPS Togethers gathering at the Highground on September 9, 2023, that she got to know a surviving father, Jim Johnson, and, taking a nod from the bootprint, she walked with him for a while. 

Jim traveled to Kari’s gathering in Neillsville, Wisconsin, all the way from Chicago — more than five hours away. He was accompanied by two lifelong friends, one of whom flew from California specifically for this event. While TAPS Togethers, at their core, are events intended to bring survivors in a local area together, it became clear that this event was something much larger (and geographically sweeping) for Jim. With his two friends by his side and members of his TAPS community present, Jim saw his son’s honor stone for the first time that day.

The stone was purchased by several of Jim’s friends in honor of his son, U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Daniel Johnson, who died while serving in Afghanistan on October 5, 2010. Kari shared that looking on while Jim saw his son’s memorial stone for the first time was incredibly moving, and she was touched to be there for that moment.

Near the end of the gathering, after the group finished touring the park, Jim — half-jokingly — asked Kari if this story would be in TAPS Magazine.

Jim Johnson gazing at son's memorial stone

Jim Johnson with his two lifelong friends

TAPS Togethers group photo

And, of course, it is. Jim’s story, Kari’s story, Daniel’s legacy, and Donald’s legacy — they’re all stories independent of each other, powerful in their own right. But, together, they are stronger — revealing the layers of hope, pride, and grief, and how they’re all woven together in this moment. Just as Kari and Jim and the rest of the TAPS Togethers group walked with each other and not past each other that day, we will continue to support each other and share in the moments and milestones after loss because we know that it is together, we heal.

TAPS Togethers

Kari plans to continue the powerful tradition of hosting this TAPS Togethers gathering each fall, and she welcomes anyone to join. Be sure to visit our TAPS Togethers page throughout the year for this event and others like it happening near you.

Tribute Wall at TAPS Headquarters

TAPS Tribute Tiles

TAPS offers another special way to honor your fallen hero at the TAPS National Headquarters in Arlington, Virginia. You can purchase a Tribute Tile in one of four sizes, featuring your loved one's photo, name, and an inscription of your choice. Funds raised from these tiles support critical TAPS services that support all those grieving a military or veteran loved one.

Kristi Stolzenberg is TAPS Magazine and Special Projects Editor.

Kari Marine is the surviving sister of veteran SGT Donald Marine, U.S. Army.

Photos: Kari Marine, TAPS Archives