As I type my thoughts for this coming Memorial Day, it is my
prayer they are worthy of surviving the flurry of other current events and will
have an impact on those who read them and perhaps, will be referred to on other
occasions and perhaps help drive the remembrance on future Memorial Days.
I always experience a bit of dread as I ponder how to say
something of relevance that goes beyond the standard “honoring those who gave
all for our freedom” which gets circulated by so many writers while so many
Americans head to the beach or prepare for a barbeque. This is a day dedicated to the memory of those
who gave all, but it is so often lost on those who did not know them. There are far too many people who do not know
the sacrifices of our military. Even worse, they do not know why America is
worth sacrificing for because it is no longer taught in our schools.
In his book “Who Are We?” Samuel Huntington notes that
America’s sense of self is a continuous development. Throughout the 19th and into the
early 20th century, the majority of Americans viewed themselves as
being of their local or state community or the ethnic group from which they, or
their parents, immigrated. The sense of
being “American” did not truly coalesce until the 1920s after many of the
returning veterans of the Great War joined the efforts of the veterans of the
Civil War and Spanish-American War in pushing for school curriculums which
taught the uniqueness and exceptionalism of the United States, the history of
its founding, and struggle and price to maintain its freedoms. The fruit of their efforts continued into my
primary and high school education in the late 1960s and through the 1970’s. Of course, it is thanks to the radicals of
the 1960s and 70’s who are now writing the curriculums that our kids are
currently studying, denigrating what is great about America and highlighting
its flaws, that so many are cynical about the sacrifices this day commemorates.
This is the mission that we veterans must now
undertake. We must fight on the local
and state levels to ensure the curriculums in our public schools teach what is
unique and great about our country. We
must tell the stories of the heroes of our founding and struggles for freedom. As importantly, we must tell the stories of
the heroes we served with. For it is
their sacrifices, the sacrifices of the once living and breathing people we
knew, which give real life meaning to the ideas for which they died. No matter how hard it may be, get out and tell
the stories of those whose blood stained your hands after they took an
unexpected round or blast. Tell the
stories of those whose last breath you witnessed. But don’t just tell how they died. Tell how they lived, what they accomplished,
and what lived on because of their sacrifices.
Tell them about Captain Humayun Kahn, the Base Force
Protection Officer at Forward Operating Base Iron Horse at Baqubah, Iraq.
He gave his life preventing a car bomb
from entering the base. He was at the
gate that morning checking on the progress of its construction and its entry
procedures. His work in the previous six
weeks had transformed the gate from one easily crashed through by a vehicle
into one that held that car bomb outside the gate and forced the driver to
detonate the 500 lbs of explosives there instead of the dining facility as it
served breakfast to well over 100 Soldiers. CPT Kahn was the only American Soldier killed
in that bombing.
Tell them about Command Sergeant Major Steve Faulkenburg, the
quintessential grizzled veteran and senior NCO of the 2-2 Infantry
Ramrods. Tough as nails, he often walked
with a painful limp from too many parachute drops and too many miles under a
rucksack. He was responsible for ensuring
individual training of the hundreds of Soldiers and their NCO leadership at all
levels of his battalion. His was the
first name reported to my station in the 1st Marine Division operations
center during the Battle of Fallujah in November 2004. I had shaken his hand just a few hours before
at the rehearsal and wished him well in the fight. He died leading his troops from the front as
they crossed the breach into the city on the first night of the battle.
Also include Captain Sean Sims, a young company commander,
who died as he moved on foot with his forward air controller team (all four of
the Air Force’s forward air controller element attached to the Ramrods were
wounded in the battle) into a building to get a better look at the battle so
that they could get the air support effectively on target. His wife received his posthumous Silver Star. His executive officer, 1st
Lieutenant Ed Ewan was also killed when he absorbed the brunt of the explosion
of an RPG anti-tank round while in the turret of his Bradley Fighting Vehicle
helping to direct the actions of his company in the fight. Both of these officers were killed while leading
from the front, exposing themselves to the dangers of the battle field – all in
the name of keeping their Soldiers alive.
The one First Infantry Division Soldier who also gave his
life at Fallujah, whom I did not have the chance to meet personally, was SSG
James Matteson a squad leader from the Brigade Reconnaissance Company. A couple of his soldiers told me how he had
died, also leading from the front, when hit by an RPG round while manning the
gun in the turret of his up armored HMMWV (Hummer).
Just as SSG Matteson’s Soldiers told this Major from the
division staff about how much they respected and admired their squad leader, so
too must the veterans who read this share the stories of the heroes they served
with in unpronounceable places in all parts of the planet. It has been said that sacrifice without
remembrance is wasted. Veterans must
ensure the memories of those who gave so much are not forgotten. We must work to ensure that current and
future generations learn what is unique and special about America and the men
and women who gave all in its service. Those
of us who have the good fortune to share the rest of our lives with our
families and communities must ensure they know the price paid for their
freedoms by people whom they will not know.
We must tell their stories.
William T Russell is a former
Republican Congressional Candidate in the 12th Congressional
District of Pennsylvania. He is an
internationally published columnist and has been a featured guest on a number
of national television and radio news shows.
He is a retired Lieutenant Colonel from the US Army and has served in
Desert Storm, the Iraq War, and the Balkans.
While in Iraq, he served as the Division Force Protection Officer for
the 1st Infantry Division and was the division liaison officer to
the 1st Marine Division during the Battle of Fallujah. He and his wife, Kasia, were both in the
Pentagon on 9/11. He now lives in
Orlando with his family.