MANSFIELD -- With the sounds of splashing and squealing kids in his ears, Christopher Weatherford tugged eagerly at his olive-green T-shirt as he awaited his mom's permission to fling himself into the Hawaiian Falls wave pool.
Christopher, 9, of Corinth, knew that his visit to the Mansfield water park Tuesday was special. His family and about 20 others were part of a "snowflake" event organized by the Snowball Express, a charity that creates fun for military families who have lost a loved one.
His father, William Weatherford, was among five Navy crewmen killed in a training accident outside Fallon, Nev., on May 7, 2007. Christopher was 4 then and still has trouble talking about it, preferring to list his favorite water park features.
"It's good and it's bad," Christopher said of these occasional get-togethers. "It's bad because my Dad died. And it's good because we get to do fun stuff."
Every kid in the group has a similar story about a very dark place in their lives. Snowball Express, teaming with the Texas Rangers Baseball Foundation for the Hawaiian Falls visits since 2008, uses the events to distract the children and help build relationships.
And to just say thanks, said Rangers bench coach Jackie Moore, who along with wife Jo Ann spearheaded the Rangers' involvement.
"It's a way for us to show our appreciation, realizing the situation these families are in," Jackie Moore said. He and his wife are greeters at Snowflake events.
"It's a way to show how much we appreciate what the military does for us, keeping us safe and allowing us to do something like this," he said.
The biggest Snowball Express event is its annual gathering in early December. This year, the group expects 1,700 to 2,000 children nationwide to be flown to Dallas/Fort Worth Airport at American Airlines' expense, and to be escorted for three or four days to attractions in the area.
"Christmas is a very difficult time of year for these kids, as you can imagine," said Buck Kern, executive director of Irving-based Snowball Express. "We like them to come together to help them kick off their holiday season in a fun and memorable way. It's a magical thing. It really is."
Hawaiian Falls, which opened in 2008, hosted the event in its first two years of operation, starting with a request from the Rangers foundation, park spokesman David Alvey said.
It helps, said Braelyn Mintzlaff, 13, of North Richland Hills. Her father, Staff Sgt. Brian Mintzlaff, died in Iraq on Dec. 18, 2006. She said she finds comfort being around other kids who have suffered as she has.