I’m not from this country, but I did get here as fast as I could, and boy, do I love this land of the free and home of the brave.
(Now, these United States of ours, they ain't perfect, but when I was a younger man looking to settle down, I never did have much of a hankering to emigrate to Russia, Cuba or North Korea - but that's just me.)
I’ve been a writer for nine years, and half of that time I worked as a journalist in Florida and Texas.
Part of my job was coming up with ideas for features and other “evergreen” stories and I loved, loved, loved shining the light on some of the area veterans.
Hearing firsthand accounts from guys who landed at Normandy, flew gunships over Vietnam or fought in the Battle of Wanat (Afghanistan) was (and is) a true privilege, as was sharing their stories with my readers.
And, talking with these veterans was never boring.
Wrinkling tattoos made with a drunken buddy were uncovered; twinkling eyes shone as dust blew off old photo albums, and a tangible pride was found in a commanding soldier's email as he relayed the message from a local woman who'd thanked him for the progress she saw in her Iraqi town.
Other Vets would lean forward, eyes watering as they talked about the friends left behind - the ones they think about every day.
More than 83,000 Americans are still missing from past conflicts – but they will never be forgotten.
One agency, the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command, based here in Oahu, is doing all in its power to never quit “Until They Are Home.”
|(March 30, 2012) - JPAC team members clear dirt from a caved-in wall at a World War II crash site in Papua New Guinea. |
(Photo Courtesy: Mr. Jason Kaye, U.S. Navy)
With four hundred joint military and civilian personnel, the core of JPAC’s day-to-day operations involves researching case files, investigating leads, excavating sites and identifying Americans killed in action, but never brought home, according to information on its website.
(Conducting search, recovery and laboratory operations all over the globe, JPAC’s Central Identification Laboratory is the largest and most diverse forensic skeletal laboratory in the world.)
So while part of me is looking forward to lighting up the grill on this Memorial Day, another part will take some time to reflect on the day’s true meaning.
Over the weekend I saw a full-page ad in a local military newspaper.
From a national insurance company, its simple message offered gratitude to “those for whom Memorial Day is every day,” a tribute to the “Gold Star” families – those among us who’ve lost a child, spouse, sibling or other family member in defense of the United States of America.
I interviewed members of two Gold Star families, and it is with honor, respect and a deep sense of gratitude that I dedicate this post to the following heroes:
|Brian D. McGinnis|
· U.S. Marine Sgt. Brian D. McGinnis, 23, of St. George, Del. was assigned to Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron (HMLA)-169, Marine Air Craft Group-39 (then deployed in Iraq.)
Sgt. McGinnis was killed March 30, 2003 when a UH-1N “Huey” helicopter crashed on takeoff in southern Iraq. (He was the sixty-third service member to die in the Iraq war, which started just ten days earlier.)
|James A. Funkhouser|
· U.S. Army Capt. James A. Funkhouser, 35, of Katy, Texas was assigned to 1st Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade, 4th Infantry Division in Fort Hood, Texas.
Capt. Funkhouser died May 29th, 2006 of injuries sustained when a vehicle-borne makeshift bomb detonated near his Humvee during reconnaissance patrol operations in Baghdad. (Capt. Funkhouser was helping to protect CBS journalist Kimberly Dozier – who was herself seriously injured.)
I will never forget the ultimate sacrifices paid by Sgt. McGinnis and Capt. Funkhouser, and when my three boys are old enough, I will take time out of a Memorial Day to tell them about the two men I never met, but whose memory lives on.
I pray that I can instill in my boys how much the sacrifices of our fallen heroes means to me – and that our freedom should never be taken for granted.
But, most of all, I hope I can teach my boys the joy (and the importance) of taking a moment to approach a uniformed service member, say hi, offer a handshake and simply thank them for their service.
So, if you are serving, or have served in our Nation’s Armed Forces, thank you for your service – and for giving me the freedom to raise three little boys in a safe, sound Christian environment.
Your hard work will not be in vain - I promise.
| (April 20, 2012) - JPAC members prepare a transfer case for a repatriation ceremony from Papua New Guinea to the U.S.|
(Photo Courtesy: Mr. Jason Kaye, U.S. Navy)