Saturday, July 4, 2009

Celebrating Our Independence

PHOTO: 1st Cavalry Division Memorial on Fort Hood, Texas.

On this celebration of our great country’s independence, my thoughts are drawn to the Soldiers’ Families who will not have their Soldier with them this year. Words cannot express the humble gratitude I feel for Families who have sacrificed all to preserve the way of life we are honored to have in these great United States. Realizing these printed words could never fully portray the debt of appreciation owed to these heroes, I still must say THANK YOU. Thank you to each Family who has lost a Soldier in the fight for our country … you will always be in our hearts and minds.

Our brigade recently honored five brave heroes who were killed in action during our just-completed deployment. As I prepare to celebrate the 4th of July with my own family, I can’t help but remember the events of that memorial service and the Soldiers we honored there.

Attending a Soldier’s memorial service is one of the most heart-wrenching events one might ever encounter. Knowing that there is one less brave, strong human on our planet and that he or she died protecting the freedom that we hold so dear is a truly humbling thought. Combine that with the ceremonies that are traditional within the Army and you have a remarkably moving and emotional experience.

The first visual I had of the memorial event was an impressive formation of brigade Soldiers, present to honor their brothers-in-arms lost during their most recent combat mission. This alone was enough to create a very quiet, reverent atmosphere. I found myself scanning each face, and thanking each silently for their dedication to their profession and their love of country. I was filled with pride and appreciation for each of these amazing men and women and the sacrifices each makes to serve in our Army.

The next thing I noticed was the 1st Cavalry Division Memorial, which the guests faced during the ceremony. The perimeter of the memorial is in the shape of the 1st Cavalry Division patch, surrounded by black granite panels inscribed with the names of fallen 1st Cavalry Troopers. Centered inside the Memorial is a bronze statue, crafted from an actual photo, of two 1st CAV Troopers rescuing an Iraqi child caught in a mortar attack in Baghdad. I read that this symbolizes “all U.S. efforts to provide security, stability, and support until the fledging Iraqi democracy can take hold with the child symbolic of the U.S. commitment to Iraq’s future.” I have visited the memorial before, but kept thinking that this was such a fitting scene to host the events of the day.

As the ceremony time grew near, guests were seated with the Families of the fallen Soldiers being escorted to their seats just before the ceremony began. After an invocation thanking each Family for their sacrifice and mentioning each fallen Soldier by name, the National Anthem was played. For one who tends to tear-up at this song when it is played before football games, I was especially moved as the notes of our anthem rang out before this formation of Soldiers and the Families who had come to remember their own.

After the last note faded away, there was a Reading of the Soldiers’ Names. Hearing the full names of each fallen hero is another emotional moment, and one I will always remember. The commanders of each unit who lost a Soldier then escorted his Soldier’s Family to the Memorial to lay a wreath in honor of their loved one. As the last wreath was laid, our division horse detachment dismounted and led their horses away, symbolizing the “rider-less horse.”

A bagpiper began to play as the Families were escorted back to their seats. TAPS was then played by a bugler in uniform, and the firing party began their Twenty-One Gun Salute for the fallen. As the last shot was fired, there was no movement among the hundreds gathered. It was a truly memorable moment. After the benediction, all were encouraged to visit the Memorial and view the names listed there. This also gave the Families time to visit with their Soldier’s friends and colleagues, a time to remember the Soldier through the eyes of his fellow warriors.

These are the memories I am carrying with me today. My sons are excited to participate in “Freedom Fest” on Fort Hood and to see the fireworks display later tonight. I am thrilled to be reunited with my own Soldier and look forward to a fun day celebrating with him and enjoying my entire family unit, together again. But I cannot forget, and will not lose sight of, the reason I am able to enjoy such freedom. Thank you to each veteran, each service member, and each family who sacrifice so much in the cause of liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Happy Independence to all!

For more information: 1st Cavalry Division Memorial