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Hook & Barrel
A Lifestyle Magazine for Modern Outdoorsmen

folds of honor

Honoring The Fallen With Folds Of Honor

As most Hook & Barrel readers know, Memorial Day is a time set aside to honor and remember those American patriots who have made the ultimate sacrifice for our country.

Of course, for many—specifically those who have lost loved ones in service to our country—every day is Memorial Day as they cling to the memories of those who selflessly sacrificed for our nation. One group that does just that is Owasso, Oklahoma-based Folds of Honor, which works diligently to help those families left behind by providing scholarships to children and spouses of fallen or disabled military and first responders.

folds of honor

Folds Of Honor Leads The Way

Since 2007, the organization has awarded over 52,000 educational scholarships for college, trade schools, or other programs. And unlike many charity organizations, 91% of funds donated to FOH go directly to scholarships.

Retired Air Force Col Nick Nichols is the president of Folds of Honor. An F-16 pilot, Nichols did seven combat tours in both Afghanistan and Iraq before retiring and joining Folds of Honor.

“Memorial Day for me takes on a lot of meaning,” Nichols said. “Mostly it’s the understanding that there are men and women out there who for well over 100 years have paid the ultimate sacrifice for all of our freedoms. So, Memorial Day is about way more than car sales and clothing sales and all of that. It’s a time of reflection for all Americans to take stock of what we have as a country and that none of this happened without men and women willingly giving their lives to make sure that we have the freedoms that we do.

folds of honor
Col Nichols (above right) leads a team of wonderful people who are ensuring that the families of those who’ve sacrificed greatly will be given the “hand up” that will last for generations.

“The other aspect is it’s a stark reminder to me to be extraordinarily thankful that after seven combat tours, I got to come home. I never want to wake up a single day and take that for granted,” Nichols said.

FOH focuses on educating families because that is one aspect of life that can have long-lasting positive effects. “When you look at education, it’s analogous with teaching somebody to fish as opposed to feeding them fish,” he said. “Our goal is to not give these families a handout, it’s a hand up. It’s a ‘thank you’ for the service and sacrifice of their military member or first responder. And education is a great path to creating an avenue to be successful in life.”

One Family’s Story           

The work that Folds of Honor is doing has a major impact on lives. Just ask Ashlyn McCain, whose father, SFC Johnathan Bryant McCain, was killed in action in Afghanistan in 2011.

mccain family
The McCain family (L to R): Breanna, Ashlyn, Wyatt, Chloe and Leanne

On a Sunday at her home in Alaska, Ashlyn’s mother asked her to go out and shovel the driveway. Not wanting to miss the “every Sunday Skype chat” with her father, she asked if she could use her allowance to pay the neighbor to clear it with his snowblower. Her mother said yes, Ashlyn visited the neighbor and he said he’d come by for the money after he was done. When she later heard the knock at the door, Ashlyn ran down, expecting it to be the neighbor saying the job was done.

“I opened the door and it was the two men in uniform,” Ashlyn recalled. “I kind of just froze because I knew exactly what that meant. I was 15, but I knew what it meant when they came to your door.”

Ashlyn’s Memories Of Her Hero Father

SFC McCain was an avid outdoorsman, and his favorite hunting, fishing, and camping companions were his children. In fact, many of Ashlyn’s best memories of her dad involve the outdoors.

Her favorite outdoor memory with her father was a trip to Ninilchik, Alaska, to fish for halibut when she was 10. Things got a little rough out on the water, and she and her father neither wanted to admit they were getting a little queasy.

“I was really trying to not be sick,” she said. “And then my dad said, ‘Are you feeling it?’ I said, ‘No, not at all,’ because he didn’t look like he was feeling it. I couldn’t be the first one to give into it.

“We both ended up getting quite sick on the trip, but that didn’t stop us from fishing. It was a nice balance between sitting there feeling sick, then we’d get a bite, get all excited and reel it in. The sickness would go away, and then once we’d get it in the boat, we’d feel sick again because we were just waiting and realized how sick we were.”

sfc mccain

A Bear Hunt To Remember

Another favorite outdoor memory is when her father took her on a bear hunt on the Nenana River in 2010. The McCains had a family tradition that whichever of his guns one of his children used to take their first big-game animal they would inherit. Ashlyn’s sister had taken her first bear with his .270, but Ashlyn chose his Thompson .45-caliber muzzleloader.

“When we got up in the tree, a bear came into the bait station, and when I took aim the first time the powder had gotten wet,” she said. “So, all it did was pop and scare the bear off.”

Not having the tools needed to clear the gun, her father made the tool he needed out of a screwdriver and a few other items, got the gun cleaned out and reloaded it. They went back to the same place the next morning.

“We were sitting in the treestand and I tapped my dad—who was sleeping—because I could see the bear peeking up over the ridge,” she said. “He whispered, ‘It’s too soon. You’re not seeing a bear.’ I said, ‘No, Dad, it’s right there.’ Of course, when he looked up the bear ducked back down. That happened several times, and my dad started to go back to sleep. I tapped him again, and this time the bear walked fully into the station. He said, ‘Hey, there’s a bear.’”

Ashlyn ended up shooting the bear. After watching the video, they determined that it had been a perfect lung shot, but still chose to wait so they wouldn’t push the bear if it hadn’t already succumbed to the shot.

“We sat up there quietly and just waited,” she said. “When we climbed down and followed the trail, we found a giant pile and a whole bunch of grizzly tracks and drag marks. So, the grizzly got my bear.

“My dad said it still counted. But I was so devastated because my sister was getting a bear skin rug, and I killed one but pretty much made an offering to the grizzly bears.”

ashlyn mccain

Meaningful Moose Processing

The day before SFC McCain left for Afghanistan to complete his third and final tour—he’d been home on R&R for two weeks in September 2011—Ashlyn spent the evening with him butchering a moose he had killed on a fly-in hunt. Ashlyn was joined by her siblings Breanna, Chloe, and Wyatt, but said, “They helped my dad with the meat grinding…but one by one they went to bed and it ended with just me and my dad for the last few hours. We finally finished the process at 3 a.m.

“In the end, it was just me and him grinding meat, and not with an automatic meat grinder. It was one of those hand-crank ones. My dad said, ‘You’re on the crank.’

“So that was the last thing I got to do with him, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I was surrounded by a bunch of moose meat. But you know what? I got to sit out there and talk to my dad for hours, so that’s something super special to me.”

Folds of Honor Scholarships

Ashlyn said her father always worried about how the kids would be able to go to college if he were to be killed. He needn’t have worried, however, thanks to Folds of Honor. After SFC McCain’s death, Folds of Honor paid for Ashlyn’s mother Leanne—a newly widowed mother of four—to attend college and earn her social work degree. She graduated in the spring of 2019. Since then, FOH has put both Ashlyn and her big sister Breanna through college—they both graduated in the fall of 2019—and is currently paying for her younger sister Chloe’s education. Her younger brother Wyatt will soon be old enough for a Folds of Honor scholarship of his own.

“My dad didn’t know of organizations like Folds of Honor,” Ashlyn said. “He didn’t know that someone still cared out there. He had always told my mom just how concerned he was and scared that we weren’t going to be able to afford to go to school if something happened to him. So, for all of us kids to be educated because of the donations of people who donate to Folds of Honor is so incredible. I think that just honors what my dad wanted so much.”

Promising FOH Future

Of course, Ashlyn and her family are just a few of many who lost a parent or spouse and gratefully received much-needed assistance from Folds of Honor. Just ask any of the families of the 52,000 scholarship recipients the organization has helped so far.

For more information and to learn how to donate to help in this important cause, visit foldsofhonor.org.

folds of honor squadron

Out of the Shadows
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