Parker Madden, sixth grader at Highlands Middle School, had to deal with the loss of his father at the age of five.
SPC Russell Madden impacted many people throughout his lifetime and many are forever changed by his imprint. Teams4taps works with teams across the country to bring joy to surviving military families and to honor the lives of their fallen heroes. Through this program, Parker was invited to attend a Falcons vs. Cowboys football game to represent his father.
Due to his young age, Parker wasn’t able to understand what had happened to his dad right away. “He used to play with me every day he was with me, and then that changed. I didn’t really know much about what had happened until I was a little older,” said Parker.
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“I think that the game is a great way to honor my dad, and it’s a big deal. People don’t actually realize what people like my dad are doing for the country and my dad made the ultimate sacrifice for freedom,” said Parker. When Parker was at the game he felt that it was special to be part of such an amazing experience. “Holding the American flag during the National Anthem, I felt proud of myself and my dad. Out of the sixty-one families that were there, representing their military heroes, we were very grateful to be able to honor our loved ones at such an amazing event. Right before the game started we were taken to a VIP section, where we were allowed to eat and drink as much as we wanted.”
All of the children that were involved in game, were partnered with one of the players; Parker was paired with Atlanta Falcons player, Sharrod Neasman, who is number 20 on the field and plays as a defensive back. Even though Parker is extremely proud of what his father accomplished throughout his life, he couldn’t help but feel different. “Since he was in the military, he was never around, and I couldn’t be like everyone else,” said Parker.
Not only did SPC Madden make the ultimate sacrifice, but Parker and his mom did as well.
Russell Madden’s death also greatly affected his wife, Mrs. Michelle Reynolds-Madden.
“Those who truly know us for who we are, are the people that have the biggest influence in our lives, such as our parents or sisters. In our case, it is our hero Russell Madden who has greatly impacted our lives, even though it took a tragic situation for us to realize how short life actually is. Russell stood beside our nation’s flag with pride for all of us, including you," she said. "His unconditional heart of gold was very contagious and you can see that in Parker. I know that as long as we are on this earth, I will stand beside Russell’s legacy with the same love and support he has displayed for us. It is because of Russell, that we are who we are today. Behind our choices, character, and even our flaws, we hold value in Russell’s legacy.”
Living without him has been difficult on the Madden family, although he isn’t physically with them, they keep him in their hearts and he is still very much a part of their lives.
“It is the change in identity. It went from ‘we’ to just ‘me.’ Trying to juggle the cards that were given to me is a constant battle. I may still struggle with finding out who I am, but in the meantime, I know we all go through the circle of life. Each and every one of us should be remembered for the life we have lived and all the laughter we brought to others. Russell has touched our lives. It is about how you play those cards that were dealt to you and continue to grow from that because we only get one chance to live our lives. So, it is up to us to move forward and create a path that makes the stars a line,” said Mrs. Reynolds-Madden. The gift that Mr. Madden has left behind can be neither touched or embraced, but thought about and reflected on, that gift is bravery, love, and compassion.
Mr. Madden left an imprint on many in the community, one in particular vividly remembers the days she spent with him.
"I just recently figured out that I had a connection to Parker’s dad. When I first started teaching, Parker’s dad was in my seventh grade English class at Bellevue. He was a very bright young man with a ton of energy. He was always running. No matter what the occasion, Russell ran to it. The next year, I was switched from seventh grade to eighth grade and Russell was in my class again. He was an awesome student and person, and I really took it hard when I heard he had been killed. To me he was still that silly, seventh grade boy, and I just couldn’t believe he was gone," said Mrs. Lisa Birkley, eighth grade Journalism teacher.
Mrs. Birkley has had the privilege to not only teach Mr. Madden, but Parker as well.
“From what I have seen in Homework Huddle with Parker, he is much calmer than his dad at this age,” said Mrs. Birkley. Even though he is no longer here, Mr. Madden’s memory continues to live on in the people he knew.
In the words of John Quincy Adams, “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.” This message relates to the contribution that Mr. Madden bestowed upon the people he loved, when he passed away. However, those who are left behind to carry on that legacy should be honored and respected as much as those who paid the ultimate price.
This article was written by Nicole Ossege, Highlands Middle School Journalism