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Local Woman Strives to Honor Veterans and Raise Awareness

When her youngest son was killed serving in Iraq on July 24, 2003, Cathy Heighter’s world was turned upside down. His death also set her on a new course she would previously never imagine possible for her. She quickly became one of the nation’s most active and most effective advocates for veterans – including meeting twice with President George W. Bush to lobby for changes to what she said she couldn’t believe were the “shockingly low” death benefit the families of military members killed on active duty received.
At the time when her 22-year-old son, U.S. Army Corporal Raheen Tyson Heighter, died the death benefit of $10,000 just barely covered the $9,333 price tag of his funeral services.
“Something had to be done about this,” Heighter said. “There is no reason our children should be going over to a foreign country to fight to protect our nation and make the ultimate sacrifice laying down their lives for their families to find out their life was only worth $10,000.”
Ultimately, Heighter saw passage by Congress and signage by Bush 43 of the federal Raheen Tyson Heighter Life Insurance for America’s Troops Act in 2005 that mandated significant raises in the dollar amounts families are paid when a military member is killed on active duty.
Today, her efforts are focused on helping veterans in Palm Coast and Flagler/Volusia counties get connected with resources and support in her role as co-founder and executive director of the Palm Coast based Remembering Vets.
On Saturday, September 25, the community is invited to a full day of honoring and remembering heroes of all types at a Remembering Vets sponsored event at the Palm Coast Town Center at 800 Belle Terre Parkway. The event is scheduled for 10 am. To 6 p.m.
“We are going to be honoring veterans and first responders and Gold Star families (families who have a member that died on active duty),” Heighter said. But this year, the annual event is expanding. “We are also honoring local community heroes that stepped up to the plate and above and beyond and way out of their way during this COVID-19 pandemic. From food service industry workers and health care workers, we want to honor them and make sure they know how valued they are.”
Quilts of honor are slated to be presented to various heroes, she said.
The event features a plethora of food trucks, the presence of fire and police personnel and equipment and a game area organized for kids are all planned.
Later this fall, Remembering Vets expects to place the second installation in the Invisible Wounds Memorial in the recently-renovated memorial park at the Veteran Memorial Bridge spanning the Halifax River and Intercoastal Waterway in Daytona Beach.
The Invisible Wounds memorial are made of black granite featuring a military member in green fatigues looking down at his hands as he sits on his knees with a somewhat tattered American flag in the background. The words, “Let Their Service and Sacrifice Never Be Forgotten” are inscribed at the bottom edge.
That is Heighter’s motto.
Yes, her efforts were initially inspired by the shocking death of her son. He remains a key motivating factor. But for Heighter, her work supporting veterans and their families goes well beyond merely a personal quest.
“This has given my son’s life and death more meaning,” Heighter said. “But what I want the community to understand is that we should never forget the sacrifices that these brave young men and women have made for our freedoms and we need to honor and understand that we owe them a debt we can never repay.”
You can learn more about Remembering Vets at www.rememberingvets.org.
—Amy Armstrong