Today as we celebrate Memorial Day, families across Greenwich will gather in backyards and front porches, fire up the barbeque, kick back with friends, and spend time with people they care about.
On this day please take some time to reflect on what Memorial Day is all about; on why we set this day aside as a time of national remembrance.
It’s fitting every day to pay tribute to the men and women who wear the uniform of the United States of America. Still, there are certain days that have been set aside for all of us to do so. Veterans Day is one such day – when we are called to honor Americans who’ve fought under our country’s flag.
Our calling on Memorial Day is different. On this day, we honor not just those who’ve worn this country’s uniform, but the men and women who’ve died in its service; who’ve laid down their lives in defense of their fellow citizens; who’ve given their last full measure of devotion to protect the United States of America.
There are any number of reasons America emerged from its humble beginnings as a cluster of colonies to become the most prosperous, most powerful nation on earth. There is the hard work, the resilience, and the character of our people. There is the ingenuity and enterprising spirit of our entrepreneurs and innovators. There are the ideals of opportunity, equality, and freedom that have not only inspired our people to perfect our own union, but inspired others to perfect theirs as well.
But from the very start, there was also something more. A steadfast commitment to serve, to fight, and if necessary, to die, to preserve America and advance the ideals we cherish. It’s a commitment witnessed at each defining moment along the journey of this country. It’s what led a rag-tag militia to face British soldiers at Lexington and Concord. It’s what led young men, in a country divided half slave and half free, to take up arms to save our union. It’s what led patriots in each generation to sacrifice their own lives to secure the life of our nation, from the trenches of World War I to the battles of World War II, from Inchon and Khe Sanh, from Mosul to Marjah.
Not that any death is acceptable, but there's a sad irony that the 1000th American serviceman was killed in Afghanistan this weekend.
The 1,000th American serviceman killed in Afghanistan had already fallen once to a hidden explosive, driving his Humvee over a bomb in Iraq in 2007. The blast punched the dashboard radio into his face and broke his leg in two places.
Marine Cpl. Jacob C. Leicht didn't survive his second encounter with a bomb this week. The death of the 24-year-old Texan born on the Fourth of July marks a grim milestone in the Afghanistan war.
Leicht, who spent two painful years recovering from the Iraq blast, was killed Thursday when he stepped on a land mine in Helmand province that ripped off his right arm. He had written letters from his hospital bed begging to be put back on the front lines, and died less than a month into that desperately sought second tour.
"He said he always wanted to die for his country and be remembered," said Jesse Leicht, his younger brother. "He didn't want to die having a heart attack or just being an old man. He wanted to die for something."
When military officers went to tell Leicht's parents that their adopted son had died in combat, sheriff's deputies had to help navigate them to the 130-acre family ranch tucked impossibly deep in the Texas Hill Country.
Big guy, soft heart
It was here that Jacob Leicht chopped thick cedar trees and hiked the rugged limestone peaks, growing up into an imposing 6-5, 200-pound Marine with a soft heart. He watched "Dora the Explorer" with his brother's children and confided to family that he was troubled by the thought of young civilians being killed in battle.
But for Leicht, born in a Lemoore, Calif., Navy hospital, the battlefield was the destination. He threw away a college ROTC scholarship after just one semester because he feared it would lead away from the front lines.
"His greatest fear was that they would tell him he would have to sit at a desk for the rest of his life," said Jonathan Leicht, his older brother.
When Jacob Leicht's wish finally came true, it didn't last long.
His first deployment was to Iraq in 2007, but he was there just three weeks when Jesse Leicht said his brother drove over two 500-pound bombs hidden beneath the road.
One detonated, the other didn't. The blast tore through the Humvee, shooting the radio into Leicht's face and knocking him unconscious. He felt something pinch his thumb, and the gunner's face was filleted so badly by shrapnel that medics couldn't keep water in his mouth.
None of the five people were inside the vehicle died. Jesse Leicht said an Iraqi interpreter, the only one on board who wasn't seriously injured, dragged his brother from the mangled vehicle. The blast snapped Jacob Leicht's fibula and tibula, and the recovery was an agonizing ordeal of pins and rods and bolts drilled into his bones.
But all Jacob Leicht could think about was going back. He launched a campaign for himself at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, writing letters and making phone calls about returning to combat. More than two years later, he was finally healthy enough to serve again.
Nine days before his brother stepped on a bomb in Afghanistan, Jesse Leicht enlisted in the Marines.
Using Facebook to reach a friend stationed at a base not far from his brother, Jesse asked the soldier a favor: If you see Jacob, let him know I signed up like him.
"Hopefully," Jesse Leicht said, "he got the word."
As President Ronald Reagan once said,"Some people live an entire lifetime and wonder if they have ever made a difference in the world, but the Marines don't have that problem."
Sacrifice indeed means something to the men and women who put on a uniform to serve this nation.
More than 4,400 Americans have been killed in Iraq. In Vietnam, 58,220 Americans were killed from 1954 to 1973. A total of 54,246 died in Korean War. The number of Americans killed fighting the Axis powers in World War II was 405,399. The toll from World War I was 117,465. At least 618,000 lost their lives in the Civil War.
That commitment – that willingness to lay down their lives so we might inherit the blessings of this nation – is what we honor today. But on this Memorial Day, as on every day, we are called to honor their ultimate sacrifice with more than words. We are called to honor them with deeds. We are called to honor them by doing our part for the loved ones our fallen heroes have left behind and looking after our military families.
By making sure the men and women serving this country around the world have the support they need to achieve their missions and come home safely. By making sure veterans have the care and assistance they need. In short, by serving all those who have ever worn the uniform of this country – and their families – as well as they have served us.
Please forget about the Blow Out Mattress Sales and take a momment to say a little prayer before you eat that plate of BBQ.
Ask our heavenily father to continue to comfort and provide for the families of our fallen heros.
Please send your comments, to GreenwichRoundup@gmail.com
People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf. --George Orwell
Army: A body of men assembled to rectify the mistakes of the diplomats. -Josephus Daniels
Diplomats are just as essential in starting a war as soldiers are in finishing it. --Will Rogers
Once we have a war there is only one thing to do. It must be won. For defeat brings worse things than any that can ever happen in war. --Ernest Miller Hemmingway
“God of our fathers, who by land and sea have ever lead us to victory, please continue your inspiring guidance in this the greatest of all conflicts. Strengthen my soul so that the weakening instinct of self-preservation, which besets all of us in battle, shall not blind me to my duty to my own manhood, to the glory of my calling, and to my responsibility to my fellow soldiers. Grant to our armed forces that disciplined valor and mutual confidence which insures success in war. Let me not mourn for the men who have died fighting, but rather let me be glad that such heroes have lived. If it be my lot to die, let me do so with courage and honor in a manner which will bring the greatest harm to the enemy, and please, oh Lord, protect and guide those I shall leave behind. Give us the victory, Lord." - General George S. Patton
“We owe our troops the opportunity to serve in the best-planned, best-equipped, and best-led military force in the world, and we owe them the peace of mind that comes from knowing that they and their families will be taken care of if they sacrifice life, limb or the ability to sleep without war's nightmares. We owe them not just thanks and best wishes, but action, and action in our nation's capital." - Senator John Kerry