Published October 25, 2015 Tyler Morning Telegraph

First Sergeant Russell Bell, of the 82nd Airborne Division, loved taking his wife Yolanda to the Children’s Park where his sister Regina is memorialized.

When he was killed in action in Afghanistan in August 2012, he had requested friends and family donate to the Children’s Park or the USO in lieu of flowers, his wife said.

On Saturday, their young son Gage, 4, ran through the park, splashing through mud puddles, excited to raise the flag erected in honor of his father during the annual Day of Remembrance at the Children’s Park.

Hundreds of people braved the rain to hang an angel on trees in the park in remembrance of their children and family members, followed by a butterfly release. Trinity Mother Frances lent the park canopies to keep the attendees dry.

“It doesn’t matter what the weather is like – if there was just 10 people, we would still do it,” Children’s Park President Jennifer Carson said. “The thing that makes this place so special is the stories. Everyone who donated or volunteers has a story to tell.”

As the families hung their angels, Russell’s brother Matt and his nephew Cayson led the family toward a small sapling to hang an angel for Russell and then another for Regina.

“The children’s park has been a wonderful way for us to help in the grief process,” mother Liz Bell said. “When you turn inward after you lose someone, I found it was harder. As we reached out and volunteered … it helps in healing. I just love when I came here this morning, when I came out of the house, that flag just took off with the wind and it just lets you know, they’re still here.”

The flag pole is the brainchild of Latoya and Jim, Russell’s father. They wanted a special way to memorialize him and all the other service members who never came home. The inscription reads, “This flag honors those who have served and those who have sacrificed.”

“We wanted it to be for him and every other serviceman who went off to war and never came home,” Liz said.

Latoya said Gage loves going to the Children’s Park when they are in town and he will point out his father’s plaque to her. Russell’s marker sits across from his sister’s in the park.

“This place is special with all the memories,” Latoya said. “When he was going to come home, he was killed maybe 3 or 4 four weeks before, he said, ‘We can go to Tyler, it’ll be fun. Gage can run around and play with everything.’”

Latoya will be speaking today at the grand opening of the park’s phase two and Alison’s House areas. The event runs from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. with a ribbon cutting ceremony at 3:30 p.m.

For more information, call 903-939-1597

Twitter: @TMT_Cory