After roughly two weeks of dark, gray skies and a seemingly endless cold drizzle, clear blue skies and bright sunlight washed over Germany’s Rhineland-Palatinate.
It was along the side of a small road in Binsfeld, among the newly fallen leaves and the cool, autumn air that Liliana, her husband, Javier, and several family members began constructing a bench Oct. 10.
It was not any ordinary bench, however. It was a stone and wooden memorial to honor their 1-year-old daughter who passed away only four months before, in June.
“We are placing the bench in memory of our beloved little angel, Sofia,” said Master Sgt. Liliana Tavera, 52nd Logistics Readiness Squadron Central Storage and Mobility Readiness Spare Package section chief. “This is a very sensitive topic for us. It has been almost four months since my baby passed away, and it still feels as if it were yesterday. She was always happy, full of life and energy. She loved to play and tease her brothers and us. She is forever loved and with us!”
Tavera is a nearly 18-year Air Force veteran, and she and her husband, Javier Tavera Garcia, have been stationed at Spangdahlem Air Base since November 2017. In that time, the Taveras developed a routine in which they would frequently visit the Binsfeld path where the new bench now sits, making it the ideal location to host their memorial.
“We have been coming to this trail since we arrived to Binsfeld,” Tavera said. “This trail has been such a special place to us, even after Sofia was born. We brought her here almost every other day. Every time we finish our walks, we stop at that specific spot, to rest and to give Sofia her snack, it became a routine, we enjoy doing this as a family.
“She knew the place already,” she continued. “She knew what we were about to do. You could see it on her beautiful smiley face the minute we stopped, she knew she was going to eat and then go back to the walk. That is why we picked that specific spot to place the bench.”
There was just one catch: not anyone can simply build a bench anywhere without the proper authorization, and there is no obligation by the German village to honor the request of a U.S. service member who has only been a resident for a few short years.
What’s more, the Taveras originally expected to leave in May 2021, but the master sergeant’s new assignment was approved in September, and the family would instead be leaving in November 2020, giving them a somewhat tight deadline.
That’s when the Taveras contacted a 52nd Fighter Wing Community Relations advisor at Spangdahlem AB in an effort to seek the proper approval through the village. After a little coordination, the Ortsbuergermeister, or mayor, of Binsfeld, Andreas Falk, not only worked with the town council to approve the request, but pitched in at the site to help install the bench and plant some flowers nearby.
“For decades, Binsfeld has had a very close friendship with American neighbors from Spangdahlem Air Base,” Falk said. “That is why it is perfectly reasonable for us to enable the family to fulfill their wishes. I would like to wish the family all the luck in the world for the future, that they all stay healthy, and that they like to remember our town. We will always think of them when we walk past this bench or pause for a moment.”
Tavera said it never could have happened without the help of her community, both on- and off-base.
“We are very grateful with mayor of Binsfeld, Mr. Andreas Falk, for allowing us to place the bench in our special place,” Tavera said. “We are glad to see it happening; this means a lot to us.
“We would also like to thank the Community Relations team for reaching out to the Binsfeld community on our behalf,” Tavera added. “I have seen memorial benches back in the States, but I have not seen them here, so I was not sure if we were going to be able to do it, but we are. We are also very thankful with our family members and the wing and squadron leadership for all their support during this difficult time.”
After a couple hours of work, the bench now rests along the Linsenbach road in northern Binsfeld, near the Spangdahlem AB perimeter fence.
Though the Taveras are slated to leave Germany soon, visitors to the area will still be able to pay their respects or just take a break in the shade alongside the tulips and field.
Editor’s note: The comments from Mayor Falk have been translated from German to English through the use of an interpreter.