He may not be here to hold her hand or wipe her tears away, but Staff Sgt. Dennis Springer will always be April Springer’s husband.
Tuesday the nation paused for Gold Star Spouses Day, a time to recognize men and women just like Springer, and to remember and honor their fallen service members. Redstone Arsenal’s Survivor Outreach Services will host its Gold Star Spouses Day event Saturday beginning with Connected Warrior Yoga – trauma-conscious yoga therapy – followed by lunch and a guest speaker. For more information or to RSVP, call Kerrie Branson at Army Community Service, 876-5397.
High school sweethearts, Springer met her soon-to-be Soldier husband when she was 16, attending Sparkman High School. While she didn’t know who he was, Dennis certainly knew who she was, tracking her down at a gas station while they were cruising the strip in Ardmore. When Springer joked that no boys liked her, Dennis replied that he did, thus beginning a courtship that would eventually lead to marriage. The couple tied the knot Sept. 22, 2000, and had two children, Caleb, now 14, and Avery, 12.
Even with the challenges that accompany being a military family, the couple thought they had their happily ever after, until Fourth of July weekend 2008.
“Everybody came to our house, because I knew they would be safe,” Springer said.
Running up the road for a simple errand – to get some Red Bull – just seconds from their house in Savannah, Georgia, Dennis was in a car accident. He died July 12, 2008.
“When you’re a military wife you train yourself not to show your emotions,” Springer said. “You have to be strong for your family. So you put the kids to bed and then you cry. I had got in that routine after I lost him. They went to sleep and I cried.”
While there were many dark days for Springer and her sons, the SOS program, which provides long-term, multi-component support services to Gold Star families, and observances like Gold Star Spouses Day have made all the difference as they’ve struggled to cope with Dennis’ death.
“When I first lost him it really hurt me because I did so much for the Army, and when everything happened there was nothing – nobody I could talk to, no activities,” Springer said. “We would go to counseling – it didn’t work. Because you have a person sitting across from you who hasn’t been through what you’ve been through. They don’t really understand. It means a lot to finally be noticed in a different light and not just, ‘You’re a widow.’”
It’s a bond that no one quite understands like other Gold Star spouses, which makes the outreach all the more meaningful.
“It’s hard to explain,” Springer said of the bond that’s shared. “It’s kind of how you connect with your sister or your brother or close family. They were raised with you, they know everything you’ve been through. It’s kind of the same way. You have this close connection. Without even having to speak you know how the other feels.”
Springer, with the help of SOS, has given herself a fresh start in life, pursuing a career as aesthetician and reconnecting with a classmate she dated before Dennis. Together, they’ve strived to honor Dennis, through events like the Cotton Row Run, where the family wore T-shirts bearing the Soldier’s image on the back.
“After it happened I thought, ‘I just want to be myself again,’” Springer said. “What I didn’t realize was that I didn’t want to be that person anymore, I wanted to be the person that I was but also grow from that experience.”
She’s seen the impact SOS has made on her sons, too.
“It’s like night and day, the difference,” she said. “They’ve learned how to open up, and I know it’s because of SOS.”
Nowhere is that more apparent than with Caleb, who kept his emotions to himself, enduring seven years before he was able to grieve the loss of his father. Being with other kids who have faced the same struggles he has, has given him the one thing Springer has wanted him to have.
“He is a kid again, and that’s what I’ve hoped and prayed for,” Springer said.
It is an outreach that Springer wishes had been there in July 2008.
“I’m one of the ones that was there when there was nothing,” she said. “Now we have the nation honoring us on Gold Star Spouses Day, which lets us know we are not forgotten as we try to live, just taking on one day at a time.”