Roll of Honor

Heath  Van Handel

Heath Van Handel

  • Pilot
  • Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources
  • Wisconsin
  • Age: 36
  • Year of Death: 2009

It’s been more than a year‚ but the pain of loss is just as fresh. The disbelief that someone who could live so fully and completely could be taken from us in the blink of an eye‚ is not one ounce less than the first moment we learned that he was gone. On April 8‚ 2009 a star truly fell from the sky‚ as Heath’s stay among us was cut far too short. That we are richer for having had him here for as long as we did there is no doubt‚ our memories are fond of the fullness of his life – his love for his family – his wife Jenny‚ son‚ Matt and Brett‚ his parents‚ brothers and extended family‚ and his genuine calm‚ smiling nature will stay with us and inspire us always…

Heath was a pilot‚ and he left us living the passion of flight. He was spotting a grass fire for the Wisconsin DNR‚ it could not be more appropriate that one of the true pleasures of his life was what ushered him from this life. The only passion that surpassed flying – was for Jenny and the boys. Had he his choice‚ of course he and Jenny would have taken great joy in spending many years together‚ watching their boys grow to honorable manhood.

There was a time in our country’s history when people served their fellow man because they could do no other. Part of Heath’s DNA was that if it involved flying‚ he believed that any risk was manageable‚ and that he could not imagine life that did not include flying. Working for the DNR allowed him to merge two of his great passions – his love of nature‚ and the feeling of peace and fulfillment that he felt when flying. A semi-famous letter from a soldier involved in the US Civil War to his wife‚ written in 1861 captures this sentiment ‘I have no misgivings about‚ or lack of confidence in the cause in which I am engaged‚ and my courage does not halt or falter…’ And that captures Heath as well – if it involved flying‚ he knew he could handle many kinds of situations‚ and was therefore willing to accept some of the perils of that pursuit in exchange for the exhilaration that came with soaring above the earth…

His love for Jenny and the boys is deathless‚ and it bound him to earth as much as anything could… but there was that irresistible need to breathe in the sky‚ that washed over him like a strong wind‚ and though he used his skill and talents to serve others‚ there can be no doubt that his last thoughts were Jenny and the boys. Is it any wonder that when his family went back to fly over the site of his last flight‚ he found it necessary to show us that his spirit will always be carried upon the wind.

  • (will not be published)

Memorial Wall

  1. There are no memory wall messages for this firefighter.