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Navy pilot's daughter teaches importance of friends, family

Allyson J. Fairweather and her son, Brendan, 1, were among a crowd of Andrews patrons to stand in line to have books autographed by Elizabeth Edwards, author of "Saving Graces: Finding Solace and Strength from Friends and Strangers," at the Base Exchange Oct. 6. Mrs. Edwards is the wife of John Edwards, former senator from North Carolina and a vice presidential candidate in 2004. Mrs. Fairweather is the wife of Capt. Brian J. Fairweather, 99th Airlift Squadron pilot.

Allyson J. Fairweather and her son, Brendan, 1, were among a crowd of Andrews patrons to stand in line to have books autographed by Elizabeth Edwards, author of "Saving Graces: Finding Solace and Strength from Friends and Strangers," at the Base Exchange Oct. 6. Mrs. Edwards is the wife of John Edwards, former senator from North Carolina and a vice presidential candidate in 2004. Mrs. Fairweather is the wife of Capt. Brian J. Fairweather, 99th Airlift Squadron pilot.

ANDREWS AIR FORCE BASE, Md. -- Family, friends and acquaintances are what Elizabeth Edwards calls her safety net, which was instrumental while she fought against breast cancer after campaigning for her husband, John, who was a vice presidential candidate in 2004. 

An announcement about her breast cancer was made by the news media several days before the 2004 presidential election, said Mrs. Edwards, while she visited Andrews Oct. 6 to autograph copies of her 352-page book, "Saving Graces: Finding Solace and Strength from Friends and Strangers," at the Base Exchange. 

Mrs. Edwards said she received 65,000 e-mails and more than 35,000 letters, faxes and packages from cancer survivors, families whose loved ones lost their fight against the disease and other well-wishers. 

"All the people wanted to say was, 'you need someone to lean on, I'm here for you,'" said the 57-year-old author. 

Just by chance, Mrs. Edwards found a lump on one side of her breast while taking a shower Oct. 21, 2004. She had put off getting a mammogram because of family obligations. The family lived in Washington, D.C., at that time. Mrs. Edwards' doctor, however, was in North Carolina, which her husband represented in the United States Senate. 

"I'm glad this book came out in October, Breast Cancer Awareness," said Mrs. Edwards. "It's a reminder to women; they need to have their mammograms." 

Making friends was a necessity for Mrs. Edwards while growing up in a Navy family. She's the eldest daughter of Vince and Elizabeth Anania, who also have a son, Jay, and another daughter, Nancy. 

Mrs. Edwards said she lived with her family overseas until she was 17 years old.
Her father, a graduate of the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., was a reconnaissance pilot. He served in the latter part of World War II, and then in the Korean War and the Vietnam War. 

"I can't overstate what growing up in the military meant to me," said Mrs. Edwards. " I made friends, made connections with people and then held on to them when I needed them." 

Her father was stationed at the Naval Air Facility Atsugi in Japan while she was in high school. She attended an Army school rather than the Navy school in Yokohama, Japan, because it was too far from the NAF. 

While attending the Army school, Mrs. Edwards and the students she befriended had a lot in common. 

"We were close then, and we are still close," she said. "At a book reading I had in New York, someone from my high school in Japan, who I had not seen in 40 years, came."
Mrs. Edwards covers all aspects of her life in her book, including the death of her son, Wade, who died in a car accident in 1996, at age 16. "I don't think there is any real way to prepare yourself for the loss of a child," she said. 

Mrs. Edwards said she learned bad things are going to happen at a very young age. Her father and his squadron, VQ-1, patrolled the North Korea and Red China borders. She didn't know what her father did for a living was courageous because he didn't talk about his work. All she knew was that he would climb into a plane, fly away and wouldn't come back for days, weeks or months. 

For some children, such as April Decker, their fathers never returned home, said Mrs. Edwards. April was two years old when her father, Lt. Cmdr. Ben Decker, was one of four men on a plane from VQ-1, which stalled on its approach to the Iwakuni runway and crashed into the Sea of Japan just before Memorial Day in 1959. Commander Decker was a classmate of Mrs. Edward's father at the Naval Academy. 

Her mother went to the Decker home soon after the crash and broke the news to April's mother, said Mrs. Edwards. April stayed with her family while Mrs. Edwards' mother helped Alice's mother through the ordeal, which included packing. "That was our chance to be somebody else's safety net," said Mrs. Edwards. 

Mrs. Edwards said she has met many servicemembers and their families while promoting her book, which came out Sept. 26. 

People who are serving or have served in all branches of the military, individuals with memories of growing up in a military family, spouses and retirees easily relate to her triumphs, trials and tragedies, said the author. 

"I hope people raised in the military, regardless of whether they lived on my base or not, rekindle the warm feelings they have toward the people who made up their safety net when they were in the military community," she said. 

Mrs. Edwards left Andrews to continue promoting her book in the Washington, D.C., area.
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