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Honoring Our Troops By: Wade Zirkle
Townhall.com | Monday, May 29, 2006


Since the Global War on Terror was launched four and half years ago, Americans are now only casually reminded of the sacrifices that our new generation of warriors are making in Afghanistan, Iraq and other desperate corners of the world. Usually these reports come in the form of terse, sterile news briefs: a fleeting portrait of a service member flashing across a TV screen or a radio sound-bite at the top of the hour that notes that soldiers were killed by a roadside bomb. When there is an occasional in-depth story, it often focuses on the nature and controversy of the casualty and follows with overtones of grief, sorrow and pity.
 
Yet, seldom is there a celebration of the life of our fallen warrior.
 
On this Memorial Day, I hope that our nation can put aside partisanship and political animosities to more fully celebrate the lives of a new, great generation of American warriors; the ordinary citizens who achieved extraordinary achievements and made the ultimate sacrifice on our behalf.
  
In September of 2004, nearing the end of a long deployment to Fallujah, the truck in which I was riding with my Marine platoon was hit by a massive suicide bomb. Seven brave American fighting men died instantly in addition to three patriotic Iraqi soldiers. Along with five others, I survived and was evacuated.  After a lengthy rehabilitation, I visited with all seven families of my fallen men. My trip took me from Lafayette , Louisiana , to Concord , California , to Washington D.C. , and places in between.
 
Each visit was difficult, as I was apprehensive of the attitudes of these bereaved families. The families that I got to know during these visits are indicative of the warriors that they raised: spirited, courageous, and noble. I found that while their grief was unfathomable, it was transcended by their pride in knowing that their sons died in the name of freedom and in the pursuit of helping others. They died so others could live. To this day I keep in touch with these families. What they want most for their fallen sons, is not for their deaths to be pitied as a tragedy or tallied as a statistic, but that their lives to be celebrated for who they were, what they achieved and the character they carried in the face of adversity.
 
While anniversaries, birthdays and endless milestones big and small in the lives of their children, spouses, parents and friends will remind us of their absence, Memorial Day in particular should serve as a unique day to remind us of their contributions and their continued presence in our individual and national life. We as a nation are stronger because of them not just in terms of our own security, but more importantly, because their sacrifices are evidence that we remain a nation of honorable men and women willing to place duty above convenience and death before tyranny.
 
Their memory often reminds me of a cold desert night in March of 2003 as my Marines and I huddled on the Iraqi border preparing ourselves for war. As we waited for the word to “mount up” our Commanding General, James Mattis, told us this:

“On your young shoulders rest the hopes of mankind. When I give you the word, together we will cross the Line of Departure, close with those forces that choose to fight, and destroy them. Our fight is not with the Iraqi people, nor is it with members of the Iraqi army who choose to surrender. While we will move swiftly and aggressively against those who resist, we will treat all others with decency, demonstrating chivalry and soldierly compassion for people who have endured a lifetime under Saddam's oppression.”
 
“Chemical attack, treachery, and use of the innocent as human shields can be expected, as can other unethical tactics. Take it all in stride. Be the hunter, not the hunted: never allow your unit to be caught with its guard down. Use good judgment and act in the best interests of our nation. You are part of the world's most feared and trusted force. Engage your brain before you engage your weapon. Share your courage with each other as we enter the uncertain terrain north of the Line of Departure. Keep faith in your comrades on your left and right and Marine Air overhead. Fight with a happy heart and strong spirit.”
 
Three years after General Mattis spoke those words, I take enormous pride in how my fellow servicemen fought, how they lived, and now take time to truly remember their sacrifice. Our brave men and women in uniform – both past and present – are the storm that gives chase to evil and safe harbor to liberty. Their loss can and should be mourned, but their character and commitment should be celebrated. That is how our great warriors should be remembered on this day, Memorial Day.

Wade Zirkle is the founder and Executive Director of Vets for Freedom, a nonpartisan,  pro-mission advocacy group representing Iraq and Afghanistan War veterans.

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