To understand how one small woman, one big golf property and one giant dream fit together, you have to appreciate Andrea Politte's passion. You have to embrace her conviction. You have to know about her son.
Zachary Politte served three tours of duty in Iraq. He was an electrical engineer and left-side door gunner on a CH-46 helicopter, part of a casualty evacuation unit. Their missions went by the call sign of DUSTOFF, or Dedicated Unhesitating Service To Our Fighting Forces. They operated in the eye of the storm, risking life and limb to transport battlefield casualties under dire circumstances.
During his last tour, a fire broke out and the helicopter lost an engine. It pitched violently to the left, nearly throwing Zachary out the open door. He was saved only by his machine gun getting in the way. He suffered injuries in the incident, but for a third time, survived a hard landing.
Perhaps he survived because of the angel medallion he carried in his pocket. It was given to him by the parents of Gregory Millard, a solider killed in an IED explosion on Memorial Day 2007, an incident to which Zachary's unit responded. He didn't know Gregory, but he held him in the helicopter that day, trying to comfort and reassure him, as he did so many dying boys.
"He was unusual," Zachary Politte remembered. "Everybody in that situation is scared they're going to die. But (Gregory) was calm, almost as if he accepted what had happened. Right before he passed, he grabbed my hand, looked me in the eyes and smiled."
Months later, Zachary was back in the States when he walked into a bicycle shop near his base in San Diego. He struck up a conversation with the owners, parents of the soldier pictured on the wall. Their son was killed in action in Iraq, they explained. The parties became fast friends.
It took a while, but something clicked. Zachary researched his missions log, flipping through the tattered pages and scribbled entries until he got to Memorial Day 2007. He realized for the first time that the owners of the bicycle shop were Gregory Millard's parents.
He told them about the final moments of their son's life, how he was at peace. He gave grieving parents a closure they would never have known. And on a hot summer Memorial Day ceremony in 2008, in full Marine dress blues, he stood for hours, stood for Army Reserve soldier Gregory Millard.
It's about duty and honor, things from which so many of us benefit, things many of us so frequently take for granted. And this is about one small woman, one big golf property and one giant dream to change that.
Andrea Politte wants to make honoring fallen heroes, military veterans and emergency responders an everyday occurrence, a recreational exercise. She is trying to turn Deer Creek USA Golf Events Center in House Springs, Mo., into a therapeutic place for those who serve, a place of pride and awareness for those who benefit, a place of honor.
But she needs help.