The ultimate sacrifice can never be repaid, but it can be honored with gratitude.
Two Gold Star families who know the pain of losing soldiers and American heroes — husbands and fathers — were chosen for this year's Hy-Vee Veterans Voyage.
They were invited to tour the Minnesota Vikings Museum with former linebacker and coach turned analyst Pete Bercich on Nov. 12 and to attend Minnesota's Salute to Service game against Green Bay.
Bercich guided Wendy Green and her sons — Jonathan Weikel (16), Gus Green (11) and Mark Green (8) — through Vikings history before Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer arrived with the surprise news that the family will receive free groceries for a year from Hy-Vee.
"I know it's tough, but you guys are pillars of strength, so we really appreciate you," Zimmer said. "On behalf of the Minnesota Vikings and Hy-Vee, we want to give you groceries for a year."
Zimmer, whose wife Vikki passed away in 2009 at age 50, learned that Jonathan is a wrestler, Gus is a rocker and Mark plays football and basketball. He also learned Wendy served in the Army, along with her late husband Ian Weikel and her second husband Carson Green.
"Today was such a great day for us. I just feel like we're invigorated and excited to be a part of the program," Wendy said. "We feel so blessed, especially by the people we've met and the tour with Pete. Meeting the coach? Are you kidding? That was so amazing."
Hannah Anderson, a mother of twin sons Jaxon and Jameson, was unable to make the event, but Zimmer passed along the surprise news of the groceries via FaceTime from the Vikings Museum.
"At Hy-Vee, we appreciate all of the veterans and everything they've done," said Carl Haidar, Hy-Vee District Vice President, Twin Cities East Division, "but in this case, we wanted to go a little above and beyond to show our deep appreciation to Wendy's family and Hannah's family."
The Vikings and Hy-Vee surprised two families with free groceries for a year with the 2021 Hy-Vee Veterans Voyage.
Capt. Ian Weikel
Wendy and Ian Weikel met as cadets at the United States Military Academy. She was from northern Indiana and had transferred after a year of playing basketball and softball at Illinois Institute of Technology. He was from Colorado and had been a star football and basketball player in high school.
The relationship grew, but the couple decided to wait to have a child until they could fulfill their service obligation. They deployed at the same time to different places in Bosnia. The family was then stationed at Fort Hood in Texas before both deployed to different places in Iraq. The couple celebrated Jonathan's birth three months before Ian Weikel deployed for a second tour in Iraq.
Both knew the challenges of a being dual-military couple and its potential harsh reality. Part of Wendy's duties had included providing in-person notification to next of kin when a soldier died. Jonathan was just 8 months old when Wendy received her own tragic news.
"To be honest, I was shocked, even though we had discussed it briefly, what would happen, what if. I was just shocked because we had been there and done that," Wendy said. "In a way, you kind of feel invincible.
"As soon as I looked up and saw the Army guys — [a captain and a chaplain] — standing in the driveway, I knew exactly," Wendy continued. "It's a club nobody ever wants to be in, but I'm grateful for my other Gold Star spouses that I keep in contact with."
Wendy credited three things for getting her through the tragedy.
Military wives "really stepped up," embracing Wendy and Jonathan in Texas while family members remained states away.
Her church family and faith in God, coupled with how faithful Ian had lived his life and "knowing he was in a better place," was another pillar of support.
"The last thing was my son Jonathan because he was so little, and when you have a little baby, you can't just stop, so just knowing I had to be a mom and continue nursing and caring for him got me through that time," she said.
Wendy met Carson Green after he took over the lead of Ian's troop. They've been married almost 13 years and continue to honor the legacy of "Ian Daddy."
"We've been able to bond and walk through everything together," Wendy said. "Our kids know our family story and how much we appreciate the military, and they know how much it means to sacrifice, so I think they're going to grow up and go into this world as honorable servants to our country and to God."
Wendy now teaches group exercise classes at multiple Life Time Fitness locations and is a chaplain for Marketplace Ministries. She is working toward a Master's of Divinity degree at Bethel Seminary.
She comes from a long line of military service. Her father had served in the Navy during Vietnam, and her grandfather served during the Korean War.
An aunt who served in the military before retiring also sparked Wendy's interest when Wendy visited her at Fort Bragg. Wendy visited the gym and saw soldiers — female soldiers — going through their workouts and was enticed.
Attending the United States Military Academy enabled her to combine the interest in military service while obtaining a college degree. The experience left a lasting "natural instinct for love of service and people."
"I always remember the unity, the bond and the love of people in my fellow brothers and sisters I served with, so every time, at any job I go into, I take that military and love of country with me," she said.
An uncle, her grandfather's youngest of seven sons has a wall in his house with pictures of all the family members who have served.
"I used to look at that wall and think it was so cool," Wendy said. "Now, just to know that I'm a part of it is so honorable.
"My family is very patriotic. We're very prideful, not in the sense of an ugly pride, but we're just proud to be Americans and serve our country and have the opportunity to love one another that we serve with," Wendy added. "We love being around fellow veteran families, and anytime there's a military function we can be a part of, we try to be a part of it. It's just a natural bond for us with soldiers who have gone the long road, too."
Spc. Josh Anderson
Army Spc. Josh Anderson grew up a tremendous fan of the Vikings. He graduated from Jordan High School in 2002 and enlisted in the Army in 2006.
Josh wanted to serve his country and provide for his wife, Hannah, and their daughter Savannah.
Josh was assigned to the 3rd Infantry Division's Bushmaster Troop 6-8 CAV at Fort Stewart, Georgia. He served as a combat medic for the 2nd platoon, which was deployed to Iraq in October 2007. Bushmaster Troop stepped in at Zambrahnia near Forward Operating Base Falcon.
Josh perished when his armored truck was hit by a roadside bomb.
He was only 24, and Savannah was just 3.
Hannah remembers receiving the news "just like it was yesterday." She and Savannah were visiting Minnesota for the holidays while Josh was deployed from where they were stationed in Georgia.
"I was sleeping, and [Josh's] dad came and woke me up, was crying," Hannah recalled. "I got up and came out to the living room and saw the people that come to deliver the news. That's when I knew it was real and he was gone."
She said military families always know that a tragedy can occur during a deployment, "that your loved one may not return, but you're hoping it doesn't — you don't think it's going to happen to you."
Sadly, that is not the only tragic loss Hannah has suffered.
Savannah courageously battled brain cancer but passed away in 2016, two weeks before her 12th birthday.
"Losing my husband was very hard," Hannah said. "A piece of me died when he died, but it's so much harder to lose a child, and that was the last piece of Josh that I had left, so I got hit with the double whammy of losing my husband and child."
Through words and pictures, Hannah made sure Savannah new her father was a hero. Hannah related how beloved Savannah was to others with how much people enjoyed spending time with Josh.
"She was just so sweet and kind and had the biggest heart, was just so happy all of the time," Hannah said. "She was a very happy little girl — loved, not just by her family and friends and classmates. She was loved by anybody that came into contact with her. It was the same way with Josh, too."
Hannah has appreciated the support from the military community over the years. Becoming a mother of 2-year-old twins has kept her going, even with the challenges brought by raising two toddlers.
"It's a blessing, but it's not for the weak, for sure," said Hannah.