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Sept. 11 families to aid kin of fallen service members

By Martin Finucane
Globe Staff / May 21, 2009
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Saying they know what it's like to suffer shattering losses, the families of some Massachusetts Sept. 11 victims have joined in the creation of an organization to help the families of fallen members of the military services.

"This is our way of 'paying it forward,' " said Christie Coombs, who lost her husband, Jeff, on one of the Sept. 11 flights. "After 9/11, so many families were graced with so much concern and assistance from all kinds of organizations and individuals. . . . Now, seven years later, we're in a position that we're able to assist families that are going through similar things that we went through."

The Massachusetts Military Heroes Fund, a private, nonprofit organization, will be funded with part of the revenue raised from the "United We Stand" license plate, as well as private donations, said Coombs, 48, a mother of three from Abington.

The organization, which the families and other concerned citizens set up with help from US Senator Edward M. Kennedy, will assist service members' families with a variety of issues that arise after their loved ones' deaths, said Coombs.

It will help them get mental health, legal, and social services; insurance payments; and military benefits, among other things, she said.

While other agencies already do some of that work, she said, "We're trying to make it easier for the families to navigate through all the services that do exist."

The fund will also sponsor community-building events in which the families can get together to bond and help one another heal, Coombs said. Plans call for the organization to bring the service members' families together this summer for a gathering at a restaurant followed by an outing to a Red Sox game.

She said that, with the help of Kennedy, the Sept. 11 families were brought together, and "we became this one big family . . . able to be a resource to each other, help each other through the rough spots. . . . That's what these families need as well, and they've expressed that to us."

Coombs, who writes freelance articles for the Globe, said it was a fitting time to announce the organization, with the Memorial Day weekend on the horizon. "It's really an opportunity to pay them respect, to honor the families for sacrifices they've had to make," she said.

Coombs said there was a more specific element of gratitude involved, too, for families of Sept. 11 attack victims, pointing out that a number of service members were inspired to join the military after the attack.

Kennedy said 140 men and women with Massachusetts ties have died in military action since the Sept. 11 attacks.

"They were patriots who put themselves in harm's way to protect us all, and we must support the families they left behind in every way possible," he said in a statement.

"The need for assistance is often overwhelming, and we hope this new fund will ease some of the burdens."

The organization will be unveiled at a news conference at 11 this morning at the Omni Parker House hotel in Boston, with Sept. 11 families and the families of fallen service members in attendance.