Military News

Keesler officer brought his brother’s casket home. Now they’re celebrating a new airman

Airman George Baez, center, is shown with his mother, Elizabeth Torres, of Bridgeport, Connecticut, left, and Ret. Air Force Master Sgt. Jeffrey Thatcher, right, of Biloxi, after Baez's graduation from basic training at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio.
Airman George Baez, center, is shown with his mother, Elizabeth Torres, of Bridgeport, Connecticut, left, and Ret. Air Force Master Sgt. Jeffrey Thatcher, right, of Biloxi, after Baez's graduation from basic training at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio.

An enlisted officer at Keesler Air Force Base kept his promise to a mother after he accompanied her dead son’s body home two years ago.

Jeffrey Thatcher was a master sergeant in security forces at Keesler when he was assigned as the liaison to the family of Staff Sgt. Eddy Sang.

Sang died in a car crash in Biloxi on Sept. 26, 2015, while stationed at Keesler. He was 24.

Thatcher flew to Bridgeport, Connecticut, to take Sang’s body back to his mother, Elizabeth Torres. But he also ended up taking George Baez, Torres’ youngest son, under his fatherly wing. He stayed in touch with the family. They became like family.

Thatcher retired 13 months ago and still lives in Biloxi, but that hasn’t changed his promise to mentor Baez. He drove nearly nine hours to watch Baez graduate from basic training at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio on Friday.

“There was no question of not staying in touch with the family or whether I would go to George’s graduation,” Thatcher said.

“I’m very proud of George.”

In a video posted on Facebook by a friend, Torres rushed to find her son after the graduation. She became tearful as she pointed at Thatcher. Her son gave a wide grin when he saw him.

Torres, who also has a 13-year-old daughter, described Thatcher as “my angel.”

“Jeff has always treated my family with such respect. He flew us to Mississippi for my son’s Celebration of Life. He made sure sure we had everything we needed. He is an amazing friend and has been a male role model to George, just like I had asked.”

Baez was somewhat lost after his brother died, Torres and Thatcher said. As time went on, Baez decided he wanted to follow his brother’s footsteps. He signed up with the Air Force.

Sang had been named Airman of the Quarter three times in his eight-year career and had received 22 coins commemorating his accomplishments plus numerous certificates, his mother said.

Thatcher and Sang both worked in security forces, but Thatcher said he didn’t really know Sang.

“I got to know quite a bit about him too late,” Thatcher said.

Thatcher also said Sang’s death hit their commanding officer hard.

“He had been stationed with Eddy in Korea, and he said Eddy was a great guy.”

‘Just no words’

As family liaison, Thatcher coordinated funeral arrangements, including a state police escort to the graveside service.

“We would stay on the phone up to three or four hours a day, not at one time, but throughout the day. She had questions. She wanted to know where her son’s body was at all times,” Thatcher said.

He met with Torres, her sister and a friend at a hotel so her younger children wouldn’t have to witness the delivery of Sang’s personal effects.

“There were just no words,” Thatcher said. “All we could do was give her a hug and tell her we were sorry. We went in a conference room at the hotel and I gave her his clothes and his wallet. It was a pretty emotional moment.”

But he noticed Torres’ infectious personality right away.

“Even when she was all in the pain, she was upbeat,” he said.

“The fact that we have stayed in touch is a testimony to her personality, her strength and her faith. I could have been the voice of constant loss that she will live with the rest of her life. But she and her family basically welcome me as a part of their family.”

A new beginning

While Torres still grieves her son’s loss, she’s thrilled to watch her other son’s military career begin.

The new airman will be stationed at Sheppard Air Force Base in Wichita Falls, Texas.

Meanwhile, she has something unexpected to remind her of her eldest son. Sang was going to become a father but he didn’t know it before he died. A young woman called Torres after his death and said she was pregnant with his child.

“It’s such a blessing,” Torres said.

“My grandson is almost two years old now and lives in Pascagoula. He looks just like his Daddy.”

Robin Fitzgerald: 228-896-2307, @robincrimenews

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