A foundation for honoring local heroes is born and gives through the memory of a courageous son, soldier, and friend
They say that when one door closes, another opens. Try telling that to parents who have lost a child. Opening new doors is not so easy.
Then slowly, over time, a thin beam of light peeks through a door slightly ajar—an opening forged by faith and the resolve to share the love of a child, no longer in our presence, with others.
The Door Opens
Ray Joseph Hutchinson was fortunate to be born into an amazing family. Older brother Lee Andrew had arrived four years earlier to Michael and Deborah Hutchinson. Ray Joseph, born in 1983 in League City, Texas, was full of life and infused the family with vibrant energy and activity.
“Ray Joseph loved the outdoors and had exceptional coordination,” his father Michael shares. “He loved athletics, being around people and, most of all, helping others—especially those in turmoil.” Father and son shared a love of the outdoors and all things athletic. “Our bond was getting out and doing things together. Ray Joseph got me into rock climbing and I have very fond memories of climbing trips with him, where we basically trusted each other with our lives!”
The Hutchinson home was a stable, loving environment for Ray Joseph. Michael worked in banking and Deborah, a gifted artist, chose to stay home to raise her boys. Many of the local kids appreciated this.
“Some of Ray Joseph’s friends had single parents, parents going through divorce, or some other dysfunction in their life. He would bring them to our home as a place of refuge,” Michael says. “We had kids at the house all the time! And we were always happy to have them there. We wanted our house to be the place where the kids came and felt love.”
This deep desire to help others would become a pattern in Ray Joseph’s life, and ultimately lead to the decision that caused the sacrifice of his own life.
A listing of Ray Joseph’s positive attributes could go on and on—and not just from a doting parent’s perspective. All who knew this young man are in agreement, and often awe, of his good nature, kindness, curiosity, talent and spontaneous humor. He was outgoing. (He enjoyed being on stage at school, singing, dancing, and making everyone laugh. In his senior year, he and four of his close buddies won Clear Creek High School’s annual talent show.) He loved surfing, snow skiing, snow-boarding and Korean martial arts, as well as rock-climbing. He was sensitive. (Without ever having touched a camera, Ray Joseph decided to become the school newspaper, “The Hi Life,” photographer. One of his photographs is of the reflection of a soldier's countenance in the black marble of the Vietnam War Memorial, as the soldier stands with his head down. This photograph is prophetic in nature, since Ray Joseph would soon be among those names for another war to come.)
Ray Joseph’s mother knew, from the first moment she held her new baby son, that he was marked for a greatness that would be seen in a destiny set by God. And so it was.
Michael shares that he never really had a specific profession picked out for his son. “I often felt that, if he made a concerted effort in any sport, that he could have been a professional athlete,” he says. “What I really wanted, as any parent does, was to see Ray Joseph succeed and enjoy the fruits of his labor.”
Ray Joseph chose to attend Southwest Texas State University in San Marcos, Texas. Destiny invited him elsewhere.
During his first year at SWT, Ray Joseph awoke one morning in his dormitory to see the horror of Sept. 11, 2001, on television. He sat speechless as the events played out on that fateful day when so many were killed by terrorism. Something inside him awakened as he watched innocent lives taken, and the need to become a part of the defense of his country was born in his heart and mind. After much prayer and great consideration, Ray Joseph made the decision to join the ranks of the Army Infantry, where he felt he could accomplish the most for his country.
“The whole army thing was such a surprise to us,” Michael says. “Ray Joseph never showed any inclination to go into the military. In fact, he would go out of his way not to step on a bug! And yet he made his mind up and decided this was what the Lord was leading him to do. He came home that Christmas, after 9-11, and told us he was going to put his education on hold. He said, ‘I’m going to do this, and I’m going to do the best I can.’”
Michael and Deborah shared an unsettling feeling. In fact, they were scared to death. They knew another war was imminent, and they asked Ray Joseph to rethink his decision.
“I tried to talk him into something else—join the Navy, join the Air Force,” Michael says. (Michael served during Vietnam on a destroyer, mostly stationed on the East Coast.)
Ray Joseph’s mind was made up. His father recalls his son’s unwavering response: “No, if I’m going to do it, I’m going to be boots on the ground.”
After his first year in college ended in May, 2002, Ray Joseph Hutchinson enlisted in the Army. On Aug. 30, he left for boot camp and infantry training at Ft. Benning, Georgia. As was his habit with everything in life, Ray Joseph excelled as a soldier. He’d had no previous military training, but had prepared himself well by training in the heat and humidity of Houston for several weeks before he left for Ft. Benning.
The challenge and discipline required for achieving goals appealed to Ray Joseph. But even more, he was drawn to the idea of becoming a part of a fighting team. He understood and loved the brotherhood of battle and became “Hutch” to his buddies. He became a squad leader, and then a platoon leader. He received the Army Achievement Medal for graduating number one in his class and went immediately into jump school where he got his "wings."
“Ray Joseph said that jumping was one of the most exciting things he had done, and he loved every minute of it,” Michael says.
Without hesitation, Hutch chose to become a part of the elite fighting force at Ft. Campbell, Kentucky—the 101st Airborne (Air Assault). He arrived there in early Feb. 2003. A short time later he was deployed to Iraq for the war ahead.
The Door Closes
The days that followed are uncertain, though they were certainly not unlike others in the lives of young soldiers living on the other side of the world. Hutch was in Kuwait at Camp New York. He watched Patriot missiles shoot down enemy Scuds in the sky as warning sirens screamed day and night. He felt the wind, the burning sand, the weight of the MOLLE packs, the miles of marching, the endless hours without sleep, the weeks without showers, the days with few rations, the unbearable heat and unrelenting sun, and the constant attack from hidden and treacherous enemies in a strange desert land. He smelled death, saw death all around, and kept on going. He slept in trenches and holes dug in the sand, and watched each sunrise and each sunset with a determination to perform at the highest level to get the job done.
During those days and weeks, his father recalls, Hutch maintained his humor and encouraged those around him. He wrote in his journal, "As difficult as it is to be here, when I look around at the faces of the children in Iraq, I know why we are here!"
In the winter of 2003, Hutch was about to be granted a two-week leave to travel home to be with his critically ill grandmother. He told his parents in a phone call that he did not have the heart to bump another soldier off the emergency leave plane, and that he would wait until the next plane to come home. He was sent on a mission after that call. It would be his last. Returning from that mission on Dec. 7, 2003, in the last vehicle of a convoy, Hutch left this world when the enemy detonated an improvised explosive device.
A Light in the Darkness
“I believe Ray Joseph was destined for this,” Michael shares. “Deborah and I stand on our faith, and believe that this is what the Lord had planned for our son. Ray Joseph told us, ‘I think I’ve found my calling.’ It just fit for him.”
Michael shares that, though a father never fully recovers from the tragic loss of a son, he chooses to remember the gift of Ray Joseph’s life, and to share a small part of his son’s love of helping others.
“Ray Joseph cared deeply about others,” Michael shares. “After his funeral we got a phone call from a student who said, ‘You don’t know me, but I went to school with Ray. My family is from another country, and things were often difficult for me, but Ray never passed me in the hallway or on the campus without flashing his smile at me and saying hello. Sometimes, he was the only student who spoke to me all day.’”
There are countless other stories like this from friends, and even those who know Ray Joseph from afar. And a million other stories never written due to his untimely death.
“I so wanted to spend time with him after he got out of the Army. I wanted to hear all about what he’d done, what he’d seen. He left to go into the Army as a young man, with no real life experience except growing up at home and a year of college. I was looking forward to getting to know him again. We can’t do this with him, but we can with some of the young people we bring into the scholarship program.”
The scholarship program is provided through the Ray Joseph Hutchinson Foundation, which sponsors Salute to Heroes annually. Michael describes this event as, “An opportunity for us to share Ray Joseph’s love of our country and pride in all the men and women who serve. Salute to Heroes is our fundraiser for scholarships, but it’s so much more than that. We introduce these men and women to the community and honor our heroes who have served, given so much, and made so many sacrifices.”
Michael reflects on how the scholarship program mirrors his son’s life. “Its purpose is to help young men and women make a difference in the lives of others,” he says. “This is what Ray Joseph did with the 20 years he was here on this earth.”
Ray Joseph Hutchinson’s spirit lives on, saluting heroes everywhere, and sharing his love—that sacred bond between a parent and a child—which never dies.
Writer’s Note: Passages of this article were taken from Deborah Hutchinson’s poignant account of her son, Ray Joseph’s, amazing life. I encourage you to read more at www.rjhfoundation.org
A Father’s Wisdom
When asked to share, in hindsight, some advice for fathers and their sons. Michael Hutchinson replied, “Let me think for a minute.” Then he shared:
Be proud of your sons. People lose children in a lot of different
ways. It hurts. Tell your children you love them while you have them. You don’t know how long they will be with you. If you lose them, do the best you can to keep their memory alive.
SALUTE TO HEROES
June 28, 2012
6pm - 9pm
South Shore Harbour Resort
The Ray Joseph Hutchinson Foundation is a registered 501(c)(3) organization that hosts Salute to Heroes annually. This event helps to send young men and women to universities across the country with scholarship awards and honors local military heroes.
Plan to attend this year’s event, and consider becoming involved in the great work accomplished by this foundation. For more information visit www.rjhfoundation.org or call 281.332.7673.