View Full Version : Memorializing our fallen

Rob Thornton
05-27-2007, 07:10 PM
I think this weekend it is important to remember the hard things. It is what we owe our fallen, and we owe the nation as it’s the most precious of treasures we spend in our profession. I’d encourage others here to write their remembrances of those who are not coming back, and what we lost in their deaths. I think by remembering them, we can assure ourselves and their memories that they did not pass unnoticed, and that we honor their sacrifice.

Our pastor, as I’m sure many pastors across the United States did this Sunday, started off his sermon with recognition of those whose service to our freedom cost them their lives. It got me thinking about how we memorialize our fallen and who we memorialize and why. When this war started, the first person I knew who was killed was a former IOBC instructor working at the Pentagon. Ironically it was at IOBC in 1996 where a visiting speaker on leadership stated with finality that as we progress through our careers we will see some of our friends and peers killed in service to the nation. Up until 2001, there were few serious injuries, and no deaths that I was aware of.

When 1-24th deployed to Mosul, I had finished my command time and was moving on to whatever it is that you do after command – mainly clear out for the next guy. I’d had a rifle company and a HHC, and I had thoroughly enjoyed my time as a CDR – up until that time it was the high point of my time as an officer. I had helped to build two very good teams, and as such to build the larger teams of the BN and BDE. I say helped because there were so many truly good officers and men, but it was time to move on and after almost 4 years at Fort Lewis the face of the organization was changing.

You don’t invest a large part of yourself in people and an organization though without having concerns. One of the last things I remember there was the BN CSM Tom Adams opening up one of the first deployment briefings explaining why getting your personal life in order was so important before deploying to war. There was silence and a few nervous laughs when the CSM reminded the men that some of them and their buddies would not return – they would die in combat.

From my follow on job, I kept tabs on the BN and most important to me, those I had special bonds with – the ones who I had sat on a range with and talked about shooting, knew where they were from, had shared coffee with, discussed some personal problem I might help them solve, or just BS’d with on the stairs to the company or in their platoon CP. I had friends and my old boss, who when they found time could shoot me an email with news.

It was not too long before the first deaths occurred. The first occurred when a suicide bomber infiltrated the Mosul Dining Facility. From my job in Fort Knox I tried to imagine how it happened, even with some details from friends I could not wrap my mind around it. I thought of the families that were left behind, the potential that was lost and I was empty about how to feel. Just too many lost at once.

Over the year there were more. Some came about in two way engagements to a cunning enemy, some the result of sudden and violent ambush where the enemy probably withdrew quickly, not even waiting to see what he’d accomplished. All were people I would not have expected to be killed, they were all at the top of their game, and all were professional soldiers.

Almost a year after 1-24th returned home, I found myself headed to Mosul, in the same exact area where my old BN had served. I was working with many of the same Iraqi soldiers the 1-24 had served with when it was just the ING. As I wrote my buddies from the BN they were able to provide me some insights to the area, and even joke about things such as the COP I was living in – my old XO told me to be on the look out for an ASIP radio that one of my old SFCs had lost there – but not to worry since he’d already been charged for it. In turn I would tell them how things were there going – they were much better then when the BN had been there – their efforts and sacrifices were paying off for Mosul.

Another thing was interesting; many of the IA officers and senior NCOs knew many of the same people I did. They had a high reputation of the BN and the 1/25th Lancer BDE. Their impression of the leadership shown by the men of 1-24th had provided them the means by which they persevered through the hardest times. Even now they could look back on the American examples and find the moral fiber to see it through.

This IA BN and our MiTT grew to be the family you hear about when men & women share combat together. We were risking our lives together, sharing our thoughts, hopes and expectations. We ate, drank tea, smoked cigarettes, patrolled, got shot at, mortared, etc. all together – just like any other unit. I lost some good Iraqi friends over that year, and of course I expect to lose more friends. While many of my friends and I myself will rotate back through somewhere in this long war, the people who live in these places must contest it day in and day out, they don’t rotate back. Their families are there, so that is what they must do. They are pragmatic and resigned to struggle. I memorialize those dead in that family as well – we all fight for the same thing.

It is important to grieve. It may be more important on a national level that we remember and acknowledge. It provides the perspective of ice water in regards to the cost of war and the knowledge that war is a gamble and the stakes are often higher then we concede. War is about people, and it entails sacrifice. We should not approach it lightly, and we should always be prepared so that sacrifice is minimized when the object of war dictates violence. For most of us here, war is our business. We will remember our friends and family who have fallen. It is probably not coincidence that our pastor followed his thoughts on Memorial Day with a sermon on the Mustard Seed. One man or woman can make a difference – Good bye to our friends, they did not die for naught.

05-27-2007, 08:31 PM
I placed Rob's Memorial Day post on the SWJ Blog (http://smallwarsjournal.com/blog/2007/05/memorializing-our-fallen/) - I thought the comments section there would be a nice place to capture some of our thoughts and memories.

Nicely done Rob,



Tom Odom
05-27-2007, 09:01 PM
Thanks for that. Your are correct in saying you must allow yourself to grieve because you are human.

It is nearly 20 years since I lost two friends in Lebanon and I remember them every year. I keep Rich Higgins picture on my wall next to the brochure for the commissioning of the U.S.S. Higgins. I dedicated my memoirs to Rich and Peter McCarthy, both of whom died serving peace, armed with a UN beret and a smile.

But I also dedicated my memoirs to anyone who puts themselves at risk in the servive of their fellow man because to me service to mankind was at the center of my belief system when I wore a uniform. Cops, firemen, statesmen, and spies to name a few find motivation in serving something beyond themselves and they bet their lives in so doing.

Finally I would point out to you, Rob, that in remembering your unit and its losses in Mosul, you can be proud that you provided leadership along the way that helped them minimize those losses.

I put these comments on the blog.



05-27-2007, 09:01 PM
Thanks for the heartfelt post, Rob !

First and foremost to My Father, Stan Sr., USN

Second, My Uncle Gerald, USMC

Last, but not least, to those whose served along side our U.S. Military:
Sergeant Andres Nuiamäe, the first Estonian soldier to die from hostile fire since independence in 1991 after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

05-28-2007, 12:33 PM
28 May Union Leader editorial - Dishonoring the Dead: No Memorial Day Protests (http://www.unionleader.com/article.aspx?headline=Dishonoring+the+dead%3a+No+M emorial+Day+protests&articleId=2f0004b7-70cc-4923-b128-faee1da03764).

Speaking at New England College's graduation two weekends ago, former Sen. John Edwards advanced his political ambitions by breaking two taboos. He politicized both the college's commencement address and Memorial Day.

Edwards urged Americans to use Memorial Day to protest the war in Iraq.

Even left-wing columnist Joe Conason, a critic of the war, the Bush administration and the American Legion, criticized that move, writing, "it is neither kind nor smart to wave protest signs on Memorial Day."

To call Edwards' move "unkind" is being charitable. Using America's fallen as a backdrop for an anti-war protest is a crass exploitation of our war dead.

"It's as inappropriate as a political bumper sticker on an Arlington headstone," wrote American Legion National Commander Paul Morin.

Sadly, Edwards is not alone in his disregard for our service members. Last week 142 House members, including Reps. Carol Shea-Porter and Paul Hodes, and 14 senators, including Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, voted against continued funding for our troops in Iraq. They voted for surrender.

President Bush has mismanaged the war in Iraq. But instead of trying to help make the war succeed, Democrats in Congress are trying to manufacture a defeat so they can claim the ultimate political victory: complete destruction of the Bush presidency. It would be a political victory purchased at the expense of America's national security, as a defeat in Iraq would embolden and energize our radical Islamist enemy...

05-28-2007, 12:34 PM
There are many, I’ll mention three in memory of all…

Staff Sergeant Thomas P. Thorstad, USMC. Killed in the bombing of the Marine Barracks, Beirut, Lebanon, 23 October 1983. Tom worked for me as a SGT – bright, great sense of humor and everything a young lieutenant could ever hope for in a NCO. You are not forgotten.

Colonel William Richard "Rich" Higgins, USMC. Killed by pro-Iranian terrorist cowards in Lebanon, 6 July 1990. Then Major Higgins was the S-3 (OpsO) when I reported in to 3/2 as the S-2 (IntelO). He was a mentor – told me that when we were in front of the 6 (Bn Cmdr) we were equals and not to let the rank difference inhibit my assessments or recommendations to the Battalion Commander. You are not forgotten.

Private First Class Roger Charles Nesbit, USMC. My cousin. KIA 13 February 1969, Quang Tri Province – RVN. College was well within his sights but he opted to serve his country instead. His mother, Mary Jane Nesbit, wrote a poem on the first anniversary of Roger's passing:

Just a year ago today, my son, you left this lowly earth
So far from perfect - yet who can judge her worth
Beset with inner turmoil - so torn apart with strife
I only hope that in the end, dear, she's worthy of your life
You gave your life so gallantly - standing on that hill
You and thousands like you - was it God's will?
My country, right or wrong, was your philosophy
If that was good enough for you son, then it has to be for me

Roger, you are not forgotten.

Semper Fi, God Speed, Fair Winds and Following Seas to all…

05-28-2007, 12:39 PM
28 May NY Times commentary - Living on Iraq Time (http://www.nytimes.com/2007/05/28/opinion/28kondor.html) by Mike Kondor.

Every evening at 10, beeps emanate from the top drawer of my dresser. The sound comes from a watch that has resided there for just over three years. The 20 beeps signify that another day is dawning in Iraq. The watch belonged to my son, Specialist Martin Kondor, who was killed in action with the Army on the morning of April 29, 2004, in the city of Baquba, north of Baghdad. Martin was 20 years old.

Since his death, three Memorial Days have come and gone, and while most people think of Memorial Day as just a day off from work, an occasion for a backyard cookout or a chance to score a good deal at a spectacular sale, for families like mine, Memorial Day has a more somber meaning. For us, the day is a further reminder that our loved one is gone forever.

It’s not that we need another reminder. Not a day goes by that we don’t think of Martin. My wife and I each carry one of his dog tags with us at all times. His picture hangs on the living room wall with those of his two brothers, and his bedroom has been left essentially as it was when he was alive. Two of the last packages we sent to him were returned after his death, and they’ve sat unopened in a corner of the room for the last three years...

05-28-2007, 12:56 PM
28 May Wall Street Journal commentary - America's Honor (http://www.opinionjournal.com/extra/?id=110010133) by Peter Collier.

Once we knew who and what to honor on Memorial Day: those who had given all their tomorrows, as was said of the men who stormed the beaches of Normandy, for our todays. But in a world saturated with selfhood, where every death is by definition a death in vain, the notion of sacrifice today provokes puzzlement more often than admiration. We support the troops, of course, but we also believe that war, being hell, can easily touch them with an evil no cause for engagement can wash away. And in any case we are more comfortable supporting them as victims than as warriors.

Former football star Pat Tillman and Marine Cpl. Jason Dunham were killed on the same day: April 22, 2004. But as details of his death fitfully emerged from Afghanistan, Tillman has become a metaphor for the current conflict--a victim of fratricide, disillusionment, coverup and possibly conspiracy. By comparison, Dunham, who saved several of his comrades in Iraq by falling on an insurgent's grenade, is the unknown soldier. The New York Times, which featured Abu Ghraib on its front page for 32 consecutive days, put the story of Dunham's Medal of Honor on the third page of section B.

Not long ago I was asked to write the biographical sketches for a book featuring formal photographs of all our living Medal of Honor recipients. As I talked with them, I was, of course, chilled by the primal power of their stories. But I also felt pathos: They had become strangers--honored strangers, but strangers nonetheless--in our midst...

05-28-2007, 07:53 PM
God bless US soldiers!

I don't like to highlights (like other) any events or facts when our soldiers (Romanian) died alongside with other or US soldiers.
My message is focused on the event and once again my sincerely sympathy for soldiers who died, served their country and gave the supreme sacrifice.
God bless the American soldiers and their families!

Very respectfully,
Gheorghe VISAN

05-28-2007, 08:14 PM
God bless US soldiers!

I don't like to highlights (like other) any events or facts when our soldiers (Romanian) died alongside with other or US soldiers.
My message is focused on the event and once again my sincerely sympathy for soldiers who died, served their country and gave the supreme sacrifice.
God bless the American soldiers and their families!

Very respectfully,
Gheorghe VISAN

... to those who have stood beside us through thick and thin. Thanks for the post Georgev. BTW - Romanian Military Thinking is a very good professional journal - we have linked to it and shared articles...


Tom Odom
05-29-2007, 03:11 PM
I consider Joe Galloway a friend. I don't get emotional too often but this one got to me:

A must-read for Memorial Day (http://www.realcities.com/mld/krwashington/news/special_packages/galloway/17273714.htm)
McClatchy Newspapers

It's that time of year again. Memorial Day weekend is the beginning of summer fun for most Americans, and as I've done before in this space, I want to pause to take note of the real reason there is a Memorial Day.

It's meant to honor and pay our respects to those Americans who've given their lives in service to our nation, who stand in an unbroken line from Lexington's rude bridge to Cemetery Ridge to the Argonne Forest to the beaches of Normandy to the frozen Chosin Reservoir to the Ia Drang Valley to the sands of Kuwait to the streets of Baghdad.

Over the last 12 months, 1,042 soldiers, Marines, sailors and Air Force personnel have given their lives in the terrible duty that is war. Thousands more have come home on stretchers, horribly wounded and facing months or years in military hospitals.

This week, I'm turning my space over to a good friend and former roommate, Army Lt. Col. Robert Bateman, who recently completed a yearlong tour of duty in Iraq and is now back at the Pentagon.

Here's Lt. Col. Bateman's account of a little-known ceremony that fills the halls of the Army corridor of the Pentagon with cheers, applause and many tears every Friday morning. It first appeared on May 17 on the Web-log of media critic and pundit Eric Alterman at the Media Matters for America Web site.


"It is 110 yards from the "E" ring to the "A" ring of the Pentagon. This section of the Pentagon is newly renovated; the floors shine, the hallway is broad, and the lighting is bright. At this instant the entire length of the corridor is packed with officers, a few sergeants and some civilians, all crammed tightly three and four deep against the walls. There are thousands here.

"This hallway, more than any other, is the `Army' hallway. The G3 offices line one side, G2 the other, G8 is around the corner. All Army. Moderate conversations flow in a low buzz. Friends who may not have seen each other for a few weeks, or a few years, spot each other, cross the way and renew. Everyone shifts to ensure an open path remains down the center. The air conditioning system was not designed for this press of bodies in this area. The temperature is rising already. Nobody cares.

"10:36 hours: The clapping starts at the E-Ring. That is the outermost of the five rings of the Pentagon and it is closest to the entrance to the building. This clapping is low, sustained, hearty. It is applause with a deep emotion behind it as it moves forward in a wave down the length of the hallway. See the rest of the piece. (http://www.realcities.com/mld/krwashington/news/special_packages/galloway/17273714.htm)

06-07-2007, 01:44 PM