Parents’ worst nightmare

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Alexandra M. Longfellow
  • 21st Space Wing Public Affairs

The phone call to their Grand Junction, Colorado home came Feb. 18, 2012. The person on the other end of the line asked Kliffa Hall if her husband, Dennis, was there. When he answered, the caller asked if a colonel had spoken to him. Dennis said no. The caller said she must have gotten the wrong number.


With that, all he heard was dial tone.


“At that moment, Kliffa knew,” Dennis said. “I did not want to accept what she knew to be the truth.”


In the wee hours of the morning, Dennis answered the door to a military officer, NCO and chaplain. Dennis invited them inside.


He heard the most difficult words the father of a military son can hear.


“On behalf of the Chief of Staff, United States Air Force, I regret to inform you of the untimely death of your son, Captain Ryan Hall. He died on 18 February 2012 as a result of an airplane crash in Djibouti in the Horn of Africa …” said the stoic officer.


Kliffa and Dennis sat devastated. “He spoke without any emotion in his voice; it felt so unreal.” Kliffa said.


A Citadel graduate and 8-year Air Force veteran, Ryan died when his special operations aircraft went down returning from an intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance mission in support Operation ENDURING FREEDOM.


America’s Gold Star motto is to provide honor, hope and healing to those grieving the loss of their loved one. It isn’t just a gold star. The program sustains our fallen heroes who served in the American military and cares for their survivors through programs and services at no cost to the family members.


Dennis and Kliffa received their Peterson Air Force Gold Star identification cards Nov. 14, 2018.


After applying and being approved, Kliffa joined the American Gold Star Mothers, Inc. several months after the death of her son. Membership in the organization is open to any woman who has lost a son or daughter in active service in the U.S. military. This is different than America’s Gold Star program, yet it still gives the same support needed to grieve.


Both Kliffa and Dennis need and cherish the support both programs provides.


“The program is supporting and giving to others,” Kliffa said. “We are involved in supporting our community and we can support others as a group or on our own. Mothers are able to form friendships with other mothers who have lost children in the military. We form bonds with each other that last a lifetime. I know if I need to talk to someone and feel down, I can always call another Gold Star mother for help.”


Dennis’s experience with the America’s Gold Star program is effective but different from his wife’s involvement.


“Sometimes I listen. Sometimes I talk. It all depends on the day,” Dennis said.


As he finished the sentence, he started pulling out photos of his son and fingered through them, at first without saying a word. Once he finished, he started to explain from the beginning each photo in great detail about Ryan’s passion for life and his country.


He suddenly stopped and his eyes travelled to the window. His wife’s eyes followed.


“There he is … Ryan … saying ‘hi’,” just as a U-28 aircraft comes in for a landing; the same aircraft that crashed and killed his son.


Holding a black and white picture of his son standing next to a jet training aircraft, dad looked down at his hand where he wears his son’s Citadel [Military School of South Carolina] class ring in line with his own wedding band.


“I wear this ring to have a piece of him close,” dad said with watery eyes. “Ever since he was a middle-schooler, he wanted to join the military like me, but he wanted a separate identity from the ‘old man’.”


Mom and dad will be moving back to Colorado Springs soon and their involvement with the Gold Star program will be even greater.


“Not only will I be able to give to the community, but the community will also give back to me,” mom said. “Knowing that Ryan gave his life makes me want to give of myself even more and more.”


Many in today’s world might ask why a young man with Ryan’s talent and ambition would embark on a life of service.


“The answer is simple,” Dennis said. “Ryan gave his life out of love. He loved his Lord, he loved his family and he loved his country. America has lost one of its best and brightest, a true American.”


For more information on America’s Gold Star families program or the National Gold Star Mothers Inc., visit them on the web at or; or contact the Peterson AFB Community Readiness Consultant, Rhonda Sargent, at 719-556-6141.