In 1979, Rocky Sickmann, then a Marine stationed in the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, was taken hostage along with 51 other Americans after Iranian Revolutionaries stormed the building. They were held captive for 444 days.
After he and the others returned home, they learned about a failed U.S. military operation, an attempt to rescue them that went awry in the Iranian desert. It was Operation Eagle Claw, and eight Americans died trying to get to Tehran to perform the rescue.
Sickmann has never forgotten those eight people, and when the time came to give back to the families of fallen service members through Folds of Honor, a charity that provides a college education for the children and spouses of veterans disabled or killed in action, he threw himself and his company behind the endeavor.
"I will never forget those eight individuals," he told Military.com. "It's an incredibly heavy weight to put on your back, because each morning you wake up, you know that those eight guys lost their lives for you. They were trying to come over to regain your freedom."
When Sickmann was finally released in 1981, he returned to the Corps very briefly but left the service the same year. He was just 22 years old and eventually finished night school while working for Budweiser. Sickmann stayed with Budweiser for 34 years until he retired in 2016.
"As I got out, I had to have a job," Sickmann said. "So I went to night school and I can always say I got a Ph.D. in Budweiser. ... They had a military sales department, so I was selling Budweiser to troops around the world."
Eventually, he rose in the company to become the director of military sales. One day in 2011, someone walked into his offices wanting to talk to Budweiser about supporting the military. That someone was then-Maj. Dan Rooney, an Air Force F-16 pilot who just four years prior had started Folds of Honor.
Rooney was on his way back to Oklahoma after his second deployment to Iraq in 2007 when the passengers on his civilian flight were asked to stay aboard as the remains of a service member killed in action were offloaded. From his seat, Rooney could see the flag-covered casket of Cpl. Brock Bucklin meeting Bucklin's grieving family on the tarmac.
That was the day Rooney decided to provide scholarships to spouses and children of America's fallen and disabled service members through Folds of Honor. The first recipient of the scholarship was Bucklin's son, Jacob. Rooney went to Budweiser that day trying to get corporate support for his young organization. When he met with Sickmann, he found the right person for that partnership.
Sickmann worked for Budweiser until 2016. He took one month off to vacation in Florida, then went to work for Folds of Honor.
Since Sickmann began working with Folds of Honor, the nonprofit has raised $18 million to send 35,000 spouses and children of fallen and disabled service members to college. To this day, Budweiser issues special Folds of Honor cans for the charity on Memorial Day and Veterans Day.
Sickmann works for Folds of Honor as the liaison to Budweiser to support the charity's efforts. The reason he came out of retirement for veteran families dates back to his family and his time as a hostage.
"My parents taught me three things: the love of family, love of faith and love of country," he said. "My father was World War II Army, my brother was Vietnam Army and I went into the Marine Corps. But it really didn't hit me until after I came home and found out that these eight individuals lost their lives for my life that I realized what military service means."
For Sickmann, whose two years in night school set him up for a lifelong career, every scholarship is a chance to honor the sacrifice of an American service member.
"It's not going to bring their loved one back," he said. "But if anything, it's a small token and an opportunity to educate their legacy, as we say at Folds of Honor."
To learn more about Folds of Honor and its scholarships or to donate, visit the Folds of Honor website.
Weatherman Umbrella is currently offering a special umbrella to support Folds of Honor on its website, just in time for Veterans Day and Black Friday. You can also support Folds of Honor by shopping at its online store.
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