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Almost 1,800 children and spouses of fallen U.S. military members from across the nation headed Sunday to the Snowball Express, an event designed to help these families find joy in the often difficult holiday season.

About 30 families enjoyed a patriotic sendoff Sunday morning from American Airlines at the Charlotte airport before the all-expense paid event in Dallas. The flight was one of nearly 100 chartered and commercial flights that took families from 87 cities worldwide to Dallas, according to American Airlines.

Many of the guests said the trip allows them to connect with other people dealing with loss.

“I just don’t want anybody to forget those who are silently going through things this holiday season,” Maria Durden said.

Snowball Express, a nonprofit that aims to serve families of heroes who have died while on active duty since Sept. 11, 2001, has held the holiday event for 11 years. American Airlines, the Snowball Express’ official airline, provided the majority of the flights.

Activities scheduled for the Gold Star families included the Walk of Gratitude honoring their sacrifice, a tour of the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History, a night of jousting at Medieval Times and a private concert by Academy Award-nominated actor Gary Sinise and the Lt. Dan Band.