WASHINGTON — Wendy Rafferty wasn’t excited about a free trip to Disneyland if her husband couldn’t be there.

“He had just been killed in Afghanistan a few months earlier,” the Army widow said. “I just didn’t think I wanted to be there with other widows, I didn’t think my daughters would be excited. My friends and the other families really had to talk me into it.

“I’m so glad they did.”

Rafferty was one of 900 military widows and children who took part in last December’s all-expenses-paid vacation to California through Snowball Express, a charity organized to bring a measure of Christmas cheer to families who have made a tremendous sacrifice.

The program is open to any family that has lost a military spouse or parent in the line of duty. Volunteers and corporate sponsors raise cash for free airfare to get the families to southern California, then plan several days of concerts, shopping sprees and a trip to the amusement park.

Charity chairman Roy White, a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel, said the group has more than 1,000 people signed up for this year’s event — scheduled for Nov. 29 to Dec. 3 — but is still working to reach out to overseas families who may not be familiar with the program.

Rafferty, whose husband, Christopher, was a first sergeant in the Army when he was killed in a mortar attack last July, said the trip was a big boost for her preteen daughters.

“It was so hard to get them excited about anything after their father died, but everyone can be at least a little excited about Disneyland,” she said.

While the sights and pampering were a nice treat, Rafferty said the relationships she and her daughters built with the other grieving families has proven invaluable.

“Your world is already so confusing after that loss,” she said. “You feel so alone.

“But when a widow who lost her husband three years ago puts her arm around you and tells you it’s going to be OK, you believe her. We made friends at every stop last year. It means so much more to have somebody else going through that same experience.”

Registration for this year’s trip lasts until Sept. 15. Families who participated last year are invited to attend again, but special accommodations will be made for those involved for the first time.

For more information, or to register for this year’s event, visit

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