Bay Area Woman Honored for Helping Grieving Military Families

By Jean Elle
|  Friday, May 2, 2014  |  Updated 6:13 AM PDT
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A Bay Area woman has been awarded a national honor for her volunteer work supporting grieving families. Jean Elle reports.

A Bay Area woman has been awarded a national honor for her volunteer work supporting grieving families. Jean Elle reports.

A Bay Area woman has been named a top United Service Organizations volunteer in the country for supporting grieving families.

South San Francisco resident Leann Thornton runs the USO center at San Francisco International Airport. The program helps families who have just learned a loved one has died and must travel to retrieve the body.

Thornton -- who helps coordinate special moments like home comings and honor flights -- serves on the Families of the Fallen response team. She has rushed to SFO nine times so far this year to assist military families in need -- a duty Thornton calls an honor.

"I don't think of how it's difficult," she said. "I just think of helping another family."

USO Director Jeff Herndon said military families who arrive at SFO to retrieve a loved ones body need special care.

"Quite often we have families who can't even stand up," Herndon said. "They are so grief stricken."

But Thornton is there to hold them up.

"If they want to be quiet we are quiet with them," she said. "If they want to talk we listen to stories about their son, their fallen."

Thornton and other volunteers provide emotional support and help sort out travel details for families. She started volunteering five years ago after her father, who served in Korea, passed away.

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