The gift of joy this year goes to dozens of Colorado Springs families who know what it means to grieve. Along with about 1400 other people, the Snowball Express, a project established for loved ones of fallen servicemen and women, sent relatives of fallen Fort Carson soldiers on the trip of a lifetime, free of charge.
They arrived Tuesday to a red carpet welcome. The city of Los Angeles, for a few days, belongs to brave people who've lost so much.
"It was my son and his Dad, lost in Iraq," said Mona Penisten.
Penisten hasn't seen her son, Fort Carson soldier Brian Penisten since he died five years ago.
She and her grandson Trevor are two of about 1400 people considered heroes by veterans who greeted the group at Universal Studios, Hollywood on Tuesday. A group of volunteers working for smiles as compensation let kids be kids at theme parks like Universal Studios and Disneyland.
"I'm looking forward to riding Jurassic Park," said Trevor Penisten as raindrops dampened the Universal Studio grounds Tuesday. Trevor's buddy is a boy named Nathan Leininger from Kansas.
"These two aren't really roller coaster types," Nathan said, referring to Mona and his grandmother Robin.
Nathan never knew his father, but like so many on the trip are aware there's a big piece missing from his holiday.
"In Nathan's case, he doesn't have anybody at school. There's no one at home that's in a situation like he is," said Robin Leininger.
This year the boys’ holiday will be an overload of fun with hundreds of kids just like them.
The Snowball Express trip is made possible every year by those who make donations as US forces come close to completing six years of combat operations in Iraq.
"It develops an understanding about what this country is about and the care and love the rest of this country shows to American soldiers," Leininger said.
"We're just overwhelmed with all the graciousness," Penisten said.
The trip is a present with no box to open, which is meant to replace grief with joy and memories that will last forever.
“This will be the biggest one I get this year,” Trevor said.
The families will also attend a benefit concert by the Lieutenant Dan Band, featuring C-S-I New York star, Gary Sinise.
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