Nearly three decades ago, David Kim deployed with the 7th Infantry Battalion to remove Panamanian Dictator Manuel Noriega under Operation Just Cause. Five days before Christmas, a member of his unit, Sgt. William Delaney Gibbs, was killed. He left behind a wife, then-pregnant with their daughter.
Kim returned home after the 1989 mission and asked his wife Cynthia, “Who is going to take care of their baby girl?”
The couple, inspired to act, founded Children of Fallen Patriots in 2002 with a simple mission: Provide college scholarships to Gold Star families across all branches of the military. Since its inception, the nonprofit has awarded more than $29 million to the children of service members who have died in combat, training, and by suicide.
Kim never forgot Gibbs or his daughter, and according to Cynthia, they’ve managed to follow her story to this day.
“[Gibbs] is iconic and represents the whole group,” Cynthia told Military Times. “We memorialize him through this organization every day.”
The fallen sergeant has done more than just serve as the inspiration for Children of Fallen Patriots. Major companies like PepsiCo have also joined the cause. IHOP President Darren Rebelez, a West Point classmate of Kim’s, recently partnered with the two organizations to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars to put towards the education and counseling needs of Gold Star children.
On May 21, at a New Jersey IHOP pit stop along the PepsiCo Rolling Remembrance tour, executives from all three organizations gathered to celebrate the work of Fallen Patriots, which has helped fund education for more than 1,400 children. But in the last 35 years, more than 200,000 military children have lost a parent, and according the organization’s 2018 report, they will need “approximately $500 million to achieve the dreams their parents wanted for them.”
By the end of the current month-long campaign, which ends May 31, Rebelez hopes IHOP will raise $1 million in scholarships through pancake sales and donations. PepsiCo, to date, has raised $860,000.
“These kids help me appreciate every day. Some of them call me when they get an A on a test,” Cynthia gushed. “Every day I have a moment like that. It’s just really inspiring.”
Sarah Sicard is a Senior Editor with Military Times. She previously served as the Digitial Editor of Military Times and the Army Times Editor. Other work can be found at National Defense Magazine, Task & Purpose, and Defense News.