Friday, June 3, 2005
Back from Iraq, a soldier observes Memorial Day
Good morning, Ladies and Gentlemen. I would like to thank you for allowing me the opportunity to stand before you on this Memorial Day — the most solemn of National Holidays. This is a great honor for me, not only to be back here in Carlisle, but also because it allows me to walk in the footsteps of one of my heroes, if just for a little while. We all have heroes and people we look up to, but it is not that often that you get an opportunity to walk in their shoes. And for me, that hero is my father. My dad gave this address back in 1999. I sat there in the same seats you are sitting in, so proud that my dad was up there giving the speech. I had my camcorder out and I was taping the whole thing. My dad talked so long that my batteries died on the camcorder. So, I will try not to do that to anyone here today. But, if I become half the man he is, then I guess I will be doing alright.
As a kid growing up in Carlisle, I was fortunate enough to experience these freedoms without really ever understanding the price that it took to achieve them. Living on Autumn Lane, I remember walking the Estabrook Trail on the Bicentennial, on the march to the Old North Bridge. But, I didn't understand the price that was paid. For me, Memorial Day was a great time. It was a day off from school, so I would start the day by getting together with my best buddy, Jon Greer, and we would head down to the Concord River to fish. I don't ever remember catching anything though. I remember heading down to watch the flag-raising and the parade and finally the lunch at the Unitarian Church. But, I don't remember any of the names that were read off of my fallen brothers. I didn't understand.
And this carried on into adulthood. To me a veteran was a faceless gray haired guy. I knew that they had done something great and something tough but I didn't grasp how tough or how great it was. War and these individuals' sacrifices were so distant from me. I read about them in books and saw the old movies, but I had no personal connection.
Today that has all changed. I know about these sacrifices firsthand. I have stood on the battlefield, I have seen the American soldier do extraordinary acts in the face of the enemy. I have been in the hospitals and watched as the MEDIVAC helicopters came in with the wounded and dead from Fallujah. I have seen the horrors of war. That is not to say that I have experienced anything close to what my brothers felt as they stormed the beaches in Normandy or what it felt like to spend 12 months in Vietnam. But now I have an understanding that was absent. I understand Memorial Day. I understand that "America's Armed Forces have made the ultimate sacrifices so their children, our children can live in a world ruled by the principles of freedom".
No longer do I think of the American Veteran as gray-haired faceless gentlemen. They are your sons, daughters, sisters and brothers. They are mothers and they are fathers...
At this time, I would like to tell you a war story. It will be only one, I swear. But,, I kind of made a promise to a bunch of flyboys in the I st CAV, that if I was ever given the opportunity I would tell the story of two of our fallen comrades, so that they and their actions would never be forgotten. To say I knew them would be a stretch, but I did spend those last moments with them. And without their actions, I probably wouldn't be here today. Easter Sunday, April II, 2004; I had been fighting for two days and had pulled into our base in Baghdad to wait for additional elements of my company to come and escort us back to Balad. I had twelve men and three gun trucks. As we waited that morning,, we were listening to the radio traffic. A convoy had just been ambushed. They were cut in half and taking heavy casualties.
We went out to go get them. As we left, the medivac was inbound. Since it was a Hot Landing Zone, the chopper was escorted by some Apaches. Our job was to secure the landing zone so the "birds" could come in and take the wounded out and then we were to escort what was left of the convoy to safety. As soon as we got close we started taking heavy enemy fire from the western side of the route. We returned fire and kept the enemy at bay long enough for the choppers to carry away the wounded as the convoy was turning around, still under fire. One of the Apaches joined us on our side of the route to help quell the threat. As we were communicating to them where the enemy fire was coming from, they received a direct hit from an enemy missile. I watched in horror as the helicopter fell from the sky. The memory of our downed Blackhawks in Somalia in 1993, was still all too vivid for me. We secured the crash site as best we could and kept the enemy from getting to the site and dragging our pilots thru the streets as was done in Somalia. Both pilots were killed on impact. Their names were, CWO2 Shane Colton and CWO3 Wes Fortenberry. I will never forget their sacrifices.
So on this Memorial Day, as I listen to the names being read off I will add those two to the list in my head. As Taps is played and the 21-gun salute is rendered, I will think back to that day and I will remember. I will remember all my brothers and sisters, past and present, who have made that ultimate sacrifice.
In closing, I would like to finish with the words that appear on a memorial within Arlington National Cemetery. Nothing speaks higher to the memory of fallen Americans than these...
May God bless each and every one of you and may God bless America.
(All quotes taken from the National Guard Template for Memorial Day Service.)
© 2005 The Carlisle Mosquito