AUGUSTA, Maine — Father’s Day is a time to spend with the men in our lives who have helped to shape the people we are, a time to play and a time to be thankful for the presence they have had. For one little girl, this Father’s Day was one of many to be spent cherishing the memories of a father who sacrificed his life in a war that is still far from over.
Allyssa Braelyn Hutchins will never have the pleasure of her dad teaching her how to ride her bicycle, nor will she know the pain of having her father lecture her before heading out on her first date. Her mother is determined that Allyssa will always know who he was, and the honor and sacrifice of his life.
The Maine Select Funeral Honor Guard presented Allyssa a folded flag June 17, Father’s Day. The ceremony was similar to the one they had for her mother, Heather Hutchins, wife of Spc. Andrew Hutchins who was killed in Afghanistan in November 2010. Hutchins, who was five months pregnant wept openly during Andrew’s funeral.
The military approached Hutchins to set up the ceremony to show Allyssa their recognition and appreciation for her father’s sacrifice in the traditional folding ceremony.
Sgt. 1st Class Michelle A. Patten is the casualty assistance officer for the Hutchins family. “Heather picked the day, but the military wanted to present Allyssa with the flag and the gold star lapel, because that is what is proper for the child,” said Patten, who works for the Maine Army National Guard. They want to make sure everything is done.”
“It seemed like a happy day for Heather,” said Patten. “She had a smile on her face, and she was really happy that they were doing this for Alyssa.”
Hutchins agreed. The ceremony itself was very emotional, and almost too reminiscent of her husband’s funeral, but she has a different outlook now.
“I don’t think it should be a sad thing, to see mine and Andrew’s baby receive a folded flag,” said Hutchins. “It is sad, but it’s a good thing that the Army wanted to present this to her, that they even remembered her.”
“I think it is very important that she has her own flag,” said Hutchins. “I couldn’t come up with any real reason why she should wait until she was older, and I just really wanted her to have her own flag for her father.”
Hutchins had asked that the Honor Guard speak directly to Allyssa, a potential challenge considering she is only 15 months old. Spc Denis J. Haiss, of Brewer, was selected to present the flag to the child.
“On behalf of the President of the United States, the United States Army and our grateful nation, please accept this flag as a symbol of our appreciation for your loved one’s honorable and faithful service,” said Haiss. These words are the same words that are spoken to each recipient of a folded flag.
“He didn’t even look at me. He knelt down and put the flag on her little legs, and held it there. He spoke straight to her face, He looked her directly in the eyes and spoke to her,” she said.
Allyssa sat quietly on her mother’s lap, very well behaved throughout the entire ceremony, said Patten.
After the last fold was creased, Haiss walked the folded flag over to the young girl. He had specific instructions from Hutchins to let the young girl take the flag from his hands, as is the custom. This was the first ceremony where Haiss had presented a flag to a child so young. Hutchins hopes his presence honored her husband and her daughter at the same time.