Joanne Garvey, Linda Nolan, and Katie Garvey raise money for the family of Army Pvt. Aaron Toppen, who was killed in Afghanistan.| Allen Cunningham/For Sun-Times Media
Updated: July 19, 2014 6:29AM
As yellow ribbons were being tied around trees and light poles throughout Mokena, Tom Garvey and his family were doing their part Tuesday to support the family of Army Pvt. Aaron Toppen.
In just a few days, they had sold hundreds of blue T-shirts they had printed reading “In loving memory of Pvt. Aaron Toppen” on the front and “Freedom isn’t free” on the back — with proceeds going to the family of the 19-year-old who was one of five American soldiers killed June 9 by friendly fire while on a patrol in Afghanistan.
Garvey said he and his wife, Joanne, talked about how they could help the family. Toppen was a good friend of their son, Tommy.
“He (Aaron) was always at our house,” Garvey said. “He was like a son.”
More than 200 shirts were sold at the Mokena Farmers Market on Saturday, and they sold about 200 Monday at the Gas N Wash station on 191st Street. They were also getting orders at their Mokena home and were selling them again Tuesday at the gas station as well as outside the Veterans of Foreign Wars post in Mokena.
“My heart just feels for the whole family,” Laurie Zawadzki, of Tinley Park, said after buying some shirts outside the gas station Tuesday. “I wanted to help them (Toppen family) because he was there fighting for us.”
Toppen graduated a year ago from Lincoln-Way East High School, and Tommy Garvey, 19, graduated with him. He recalled his friend’s love of the outdoors, particularly fishing, and his love of country.
“I was proud of him” for enlisting, Garvey said. “That’s something Aaron had wanted to do his entire life.”
Toppen’s family has said he was hand-picked to serve on the mission alongside a group of elite troops. Military officials said an airstrike was called in after the unit was ambushed by the Taliban. It was one of the deadliest friendly-fire incidents in the nearly 14-year war.
Toppen’s body was returned to the U.S. last week, but it’s unclear when it will be brought back to Mokena. An escort from Midway Airport is expected to travel through several Southland communities, and people have been tying yellow ribbons along the route, which will include major streets such as Cicero and Harlem avenues and Wolf Road.
A service will be held at Parkview Christian Church in Orland Park, and the church expected to post information on its website when details were finalized.
Cindy Bonzani said children in her Mokena neighborhood were tying ribbons around trees. She said Toppen’s death was “just devastating” and that her teens were friends with Toppen.
“It’s really great that a community can come together like this,” she said. “It’s nice that so many people are doing so much to help out the family.”
Joanne Garvey said she and her husband picked up the first batch of shirts last Friday and sold out of them in an hour at the farmers market. Tom Garvey estimated that about 800 shirts had been sold as of Tuesday, and he intended to order another 600 on Wednesday. The family plans to be back at the farmers market on Saturday, he said.