Snowball Express leaves from KCI to take families of fallen military to unforgettable Disney retreat

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- A very special flight left from KCI Saturday morning full of local Gold Star families.  Its called the Snowball Express.

The destination? Disney World in Orlando for all-expense-paid fun.

Volunteers at Gate 87 were ready to offer 19 Kansas City area families the time of their lives. And they need it, too. Gold Star families are families who have lost immediate member while serving in the military.

Grieving families said opportunities like this give them a reason to look forward to the holidays in what would otherwise be an extremely difficult season.

"They make you feel special and show they care for you and want you to know that you are loved and seen and that they will never forget the sacrifice that your loved one made," Megan Kelley, who's father died while serving, said.

The Kelley kids lost their father, a helicopter pilot, almost 11 years ago.  Connecting with other kids is part of why there are here.

"Its just knowing that someone else understands what you are going through. Its comforting," Tyler Kelley, Megan's brother, said.

A massive undertaking, American Airlines chartered 13 of its planes and carried 1,700 people total worldwide who have lost a loved one serving in the US military since 911.

Here in Kansas City, volunteers passed out goody bags filled with candy for the plane ride. Santa was there along with sports mascots from every professional team in the metro.

The American Airlines crew vie for the volunteer spots aboard the plane. Dozens of members of the Patriot Guard formed a double line and stood at attention as the families of the fallen walked through the row of flags.  Tears rimmed some of the old veteran's eyes.  They remember helping to lay some of the fallen heroes to rest.

"Standing here, the hair still stands up on the back of your neck," Rodney Bledsoe with the Patriot Guard said.

Sgt. Major Antwone Jones from Ft. Leavenworth boarded the plane to send the families off.

“These soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines, and coast guardsmen gave the ultimate sacrifice. They bought our freedom with their inheritance, and the least we could do is give back and show that their inheritance means something to us," Jones said.

The Gary Sinise Foundation is hosting the therapeutic five-day retreat. The trip includes a concert by Sinise and his Lt. Dan band, inspiring programs and, of course, Disney World.

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