Families of fallen military heroes gathered at LAX Saturday morning with their luggage and mouse ears ready to board their free flight to Florida's Walt Disney World Resort.
The Gary Sinise Foundation partners with American Airlines to make the annual all-expense-paid, five-day Orlando trip a fun and healing experience for about 1,800 family members who lost their loved ones while serving in the U.S. military.
This year, about 80 family members were heading out to the Disney resort Snowball Express event from LAX on a donated American Airlines plane, staffed with an all-volunteer crew. Sinise said he's blessed to be able to help make the experience happen.
"A lot of families have sacrificed in service to our country and for me to be able to go out there and wrap my arms around them and tell them we don't forget, and that we appreciate them, that means a lot," Sinise said.
Many of the families said this was the only vacation they take each year and not only look forward to the good times but also to the opportunity to heal, make new friends and bond with old friends.
Dala Encinas said she and her 15-year-old son Jayce have participated in the event, on and off, for the last 10 years following the death of her husband.
"It's like a large family reunion," Encinas said. "We grew up with a lot of these families … this is the chance where we get to reconnect and just kind of get to laugh and remind each other it's okay to laugh, but it's also okay to cry and remember and honor our loved ones."
The Gary Sinise Foundation was established in 2011 by actor and humanitarian Gary Sinise. The foundation supports thousands of families of fallen military heroes year-round through empowerment workshops and regional community events, as well as the annual five-day experience at Walt Disney World Resort.
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