Image courtesy: Pfc. David Hauk, U.S. Army. Kandahar, Afghanistan, November 12, 2009

Monday, May 30, 2011

The Day He Tried To Live

Image courtesy: Donna Walker

When Spc. Jameson Lindskog desperately tried to stay alive during a chaotic firefight in eastern Afghanistan on Mar. 29, it wasn't for personal reasons. It was his job.

"When I found out he'd be a medic in the Army, I wasn't surprised," Lindskog's mother, Donna Walker, told The Unknown Soldiers. "He had endless compassion for anyone or anything that was helpless or in need."

Shot while caring for a wounded fellow 101st Airborne Division paratrooper, Lindskog simply kept going. Life was precious to this soldier of empathy, especially when it was someone else's.

"He was just incredible," his mom said. "Every time our dog had a seizure, he'd be right there to help."

While helping a sick family pet is different than caring for a wounded soldier on the battlefield, Lindskog's lifesaving instincts kicked in amid the hellish violence of Afghanistan's Konar province.

"It was his first time in combat," Walker said. "I find it even more amazing that even though he had never experienced combat, he never hesitated."

Instead of celebrating his sister Candace's 27th birthday at home in Pleasanton, Calif., Lindskog found himself covered in the blood of a brother in arms, not to mention his own. But if he was going to make the ultimate sacrifice, he wanted it to be this way. According to his mother, the medic had a recurring nightmare of stepping on an improvised explosive device, without getting the chance to care for his fellow wounded warriors in the aftermath.

"When I first heard something had happened, I thought, 'Oh, my gosh, he must have been blown up, and his own worst fear came true,'" Walker said. "I was completely shocked to later find out the circumstances."

Those circumstances are tragic, but also the stuff of legend.

"He was so weak," the soldier's mom said, breaking down in tears. "He told the other guy who was there, 'I'm sorry I can't help you anymore, but I can't continue.'"

As Lindskog succumbed to his devastating injuries, he thought of the wounded comrade in his care.

"He asked another soldier to help before he died," Walker said.

The murder of Lindskog is an outrage. Shooting at a medic on the battlefield is not only a blatant violation of international law, but a despicable act of cowardice.

In the almost 10 years since the terrorist atrocities of Sept. 11, 2001, we have come to expect only the lowest from our enemies, who, until the historic events of May 1, were led by Osama bin Laden. True to form, bin Laden acted "cowardly" at the moment of his demise, according to news reports quoting senior U.S. officials.

"I imagine I feel the same way that most Americans feel: completely ecstatic and jubilant at the thought," Walker said the week bin Laden was brought to justice by U.S. Navy SEALs. "When I heard he was living in that million-dollar compound, I hoped it would demoralize the people fighting for him."

Sgt. 1st Class Ofren Arrechaga, 28, and Staff Sgt. Frank Adamski III, 26, died in the same Mar. 29 battle as Lindskog, 23. Three more "Screaming Eagles" serving with the 2nd Battalion, 327th Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat team were also killed the same day in a separate battle nearby. Many of these fallen heroes, including Lindskog, were just weeks away from coming home.

In war, men and women who would have lived even longer lives of consequence are taken from us, a possibility his mother said Lindskog acknowledged when he made his "first adult decision" to join the military.

"He had a strong sense of right and wrong and what's fair," Walker said. "But of course, the world is never fair."

As Walker embarks on a lifetime of remembrance, she worries about remarkable human beings like her son being forgotten.

"Usually, the kind-hearted people are the ones who are unappreciated," she said.

Not today.


Image courtesy: U.S. Air Force/Roland Balik

Monday, May 23, 2011

It Still Is What It Is

On May 17, I had the honor and privilege of addressing the National Press Club about a journalism fellowship I recently completed for The Phillips Foundation, which was titled "The Unknown Soldiers: How the Media Celebrates American Idols and Ignores American Heroes."

You read the project right here on The Unknown Soldiers blog and in my weekly Creators Syndicate newspaper column, both of which continue today. While every post you read here is near and dear to my heart, one of the stories I think about most often is the emotional saga of Lance Cpl. Andrew Carpenter and his family.

From the Marine's tragic death after being shot in Afghanistan to the subsequent birth of his son, Landon, with an incredible memorial service in between, I wanted to share this story with the audience, which included former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and several troops, veterans, and military spouses.

Thank you for continuing to read this blog, the weekly newspaper column, and for supporting the USO, which I humbly joined on March 14. The work of spotlighting, honoring, and helping our troops, veterans, and their families continues every single day, until every one comes home.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Stairway to Heaven

The opening lyrics and chords of Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven" are among the most iconic in the history of rock. As a prolific amateur guitarist, Sgt. Sean Callahan loved the famous song and particularly enjoyed playing it with his dad and Cpl. Daniel Callahan, his big brother and fellow Marine.

"Their friends would come over, and we'd all have a barbecue, play the guitar and sing," proud father Patrick Callahan told The Unknown Soldiers. "(Sean) enjoyed playing music with his friends — that interaction with other people is what made it fun."

After Sean graduated from his Prince William County, Va., high school, he planned to spend a few years in northern Virginia, figuring out the best way to strum life's complicated strings. The one-year lease on his first apartment hadn't even run out when he enthusiastically joined the Marines. Four months later, Sean's brother made the decision to become his brother in arms.

"Honestly, Dan and Sean are two very different people," their dad explained. "But when Dan made the decision to join, he purposely set his entrance so he could see Sean graduate from boot camp."

Sean's first deployment with the 3rd Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment was to Iraq in 2009. After about two months, Sean and his fellow Marines made an early return to North Carolina's Camp Lejeune to train for a new mission to Afghanistan. Sean's father said the two deployments were vastly different, especially as far as communication back home was concerned.

"The base he was on in Iraq had frequent Internet access, and we could connect with him on Skype," Patrick said. "As bad the connection would sometimes wind up being, seeing your kid and talking to him face to face is just wonderful.

"In Afghanistan, we got a satellite phone call maybe every three or four weeks, and they were usually short," he added.

In mid-April, Patrick's wife, Janet Callahan, spoke to her youngest child for about 45 minutes, one of their longest conversations during Sean's time in Afghanistan.

"He always sounded calm and very comfortable," Patrick said. "He basically just called to say he loved us."

Images courtesy: Facebook

About a week later, Patrick was cooking dinner for one of his two daughters, who, like Sean, loved to have friends over to the house. There was a knock, causing the family dog to rush toward the front door. Sean's dad was down on one knee tending to his pet when he saw two sets of polished black shoes in front of him. Something was wrong.

"I got up and I saw the service outfit greens," Patrick said. "It's like having your world transformed in an absolute instant."

According to the Pentagon, Sgt. Sean Callahan, 23, and Lance Cpl. Dominic Ciaramitaro, 19, were killed conducting combat operations in Afghanistan's volatile Helmand province on April 23. Nine days later, just hours after U.S. forces killed Osama bin Laden, the Callahans laid Sean to rest at Arlington National Cemetery.

"We've never felt like we're alone because there are so many other people who love Sean," Patrick said. "It's a horrible thing to bury a child, but if you look at the positive side, we've had the benefit and privilege as parents to see through other people's eyes what an impact he had on the world around him."

Molly's, an Irish pub in Warrenton, chartered a bus to bring a large group of veterans to Sean's funeral. Virginia Tire & Auto, where Sean once worked, is accepting donations in his memory to support Any Soldier, which sends care packages to American troops overseas.

"It's really amazing stuff," the grateful father said.

When I arrived at Sean's grave on May 17, one of his favorite songs echoed through my headphones. Above his grave marker, I pictured the stairway to heaven. At the top, Sean strummed his guitar while laughing and singing with his newest friends: a decade of men and women who have sacrificed everything in Afghanistan and Iraq.


Note: For information on how to make a donation to our deployed troops in honor of Sgt. Sean Callahan, please click here.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Hard sun

Dark clouds loomed above Arlington National Cemetery as I arrived at the hallowed grounds on Tuesday afternoon.  Even amid heavy construction, a walk down Eisenhower Drive, with white headstones of thousands of heroes on the left and right, is one of the quietest, most reflective walks an American can ever take.

This was my fourth visit to Section 60, where many honorable patriots of America's post-9/11 battlefields rest for eternity.  Tragically, the sacred section continues to expand, as more valiant men and women make the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom.

One of those selfless patriots is Sgt. Sean Callahan, who you can read more about in this week's Creators Syndicate newspaper column, which is posted here on Saturday mornings.  The 23-year-old Marine was killed April 23 in Afghanistan's Helmand province, and I wanted to pay my respects to Sgt. Callahan and his fallen brothers and sisters in arms before the column's release.

At almost the exact same moment that I bowed my head at Sgt. Callahan's place of rest, hard rain began to fall, giving the two sets of flowers left beside the hero's temporary grave marker a much-needed drink.  As raindrops mixed with the tears welling up in my eyes, I saw two people, perhaps a mother and son, standing nearby in the steady showers.  Someone they cared about had given everything in a war zone so we could experience a peaceful day in the nation's capital which, as documents seized from Osama bin Laden's hideout reinforce, remains firmly in the crosshairs of terrorists.

Even after bin Laden's capture, his followers and enablers are still relentlessly targeted by the most highly-trained fighting force in the world.  While there are more victories for the United States in Southwest Asia than defeats, these missions come with extraordinary risk.  In the past four days, the deaths of nine American troops in Afghanistan have been announced by the Department of Defense.  

Spc. Brandon Kirton, 25, Centennial, Colorado
Staff Sgt. David Self, 29, Pearl, Mississippi
Spc. Bradley Melton, 29, Rolla, Missouri
Pvt. Lamarol Tucker, 26, Gainesville, Florida
Pvt. Cheizray Pressley, 21, N. Charleston, South Carolina
Spc. Brian Riley Jr., 24, Longwood, Florida
Sgt. Kevin Balduf, 27, Nashville, Tennessee
Lt. Col. Benjamin Palmer, 43, Modesto, California
Sgt. Robert Schlote, 26, Norfolk, Nebraska

While families of the fallen decide where their loved ones are buried, it is possible that some or all of these men could join Sgt. Callahan in Section 60 in the coming weeks.  I urge every reader of The Unknown Soldiers to visit Arlington National Cemetery, and specifically the heroes of the past decade, during your next visit to the Washington, D.C. area.  I especially believe that school-aged children should be led through Section 60, so they begin to understand why they say the pledge of allegiance as the morning bell tolls.

During my walk back down Eisenhower Drive, I saw a group of Marines getting on a bus after presumably assisting with a funeral.  At that moment, the clouds began to break.  Despite the terrible tragedies thousands of military families have experienced since September 11, 2001, there are still brave men and women willing to honor the memories of our fallen by continuing their work.

Sunlight began warming Arlington National Cemetery just before my departure.  As I left its grounds, I pivoted on the wet grass, turned around, and soaked in the patriotism one last time.  There is a reason we are free.

Note: This post was updated on May 20 at 8:26 a.m. EDT.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

The Promise

Shortly after the death of Moses, God made a vow to his successor, Joshua.

"I will not fail thee, nor forsake thee," the King James Bible translation of Joshua 1:5 reads.

Capt. Joshua McClimans made a similar vow to his son, Max, before leaving for Afghanistan. Even while the Army nurse was caring for patients in a volatile war zone, his duties as a father would continue, even from thousands of miles away.

"Josh and Max were inseparable," the soldier's girlfriend, Melissa Bulebush, told The Unknown Soldiers.

Despite frequent bombings and a poor Internet connection on Forward Operating Base Salerno in eastern Afghanistan, McClimans made weekly Skype video calls to his son's first-grade class in Ohio, which he had spoken to before deploying. The 30-year-old soldier, who had previously deployed to Iraq, thought it was important for Max and his classmates to understand that our nation is at war.

"They looked up to him as a hero," Ally Wehmann, Max's teacher, told The Akron Beacon Journal.

McClimans did not think of himself as a heroic figure. In his mind, he was simply a nurse who, on occasion, had to do his job in the world's most dangerous places. When McClimans chose to re-enlist in the Army Reserve, he understood the risks.

"He knew he was going to get deployed at some point in time, and he was OK with it," Bulebush, 35, said. "He had a little bit of PTSD from the first time over there, but working with (the) company that he was with in Iraq, he actually enjoyed it. He helped a lot of soldiers."

Those who served with McClimans were in awe of his genuine bravery and medical ingenuity.

"He was such a dedicated nurse and officer who impacted so many lives," Chris Weidlich, McClimans' company commander in Iraq from 2004 to 2005, posted on Facebook. "He always brought a smile to his friends' faces."

On April 22, McClimans was killed in Khost province when terrorists attacked his unit with indirect fire, according to the Pentagon. The dedicated nurse, who served with the 848th Forward Surgical Team, died just six days before Max's 7th birthday.

"I'm not sure how much he's truly understanding," Bulebush said of young Max. "I think seeing Josh's family has really helped him, though."

In addition to his parents and a 13-year-old stepdaughter, McClimans also leaves behind two sisters.

"The best brother in the world," is how Crystal McClimans described Joshua in a Facebook post. "(We) miss you and love you."

When McClimans returned to his hometown of Jamestown, Pa., on May 3 in a flag-draped casket, everyone was his brother and sister. Word was spreading that the hateful Westboro Baptist Church was planning to protest the fallen hero's funeral. Amid their grief, friends, family members and fellow troops quickly banded together to protect their fallen hero.

"I stand guard now ... for three days," Doug Knieriem, who served with McClimans and brought him home, wrote in a dramatic Facebook post. "I will sleep beside him so he is not alone, and he will comfort me, for he loved me as I did him."

In the end, Westboro didn't dare step foot in Jamestown, where Esther McClimans, the fallen soldier's grandmother, is mayor. And despite cold, rainy conditions, hundreds turned out in full force to wave flags, shed tears and comfort a devastated family.

"People have been just unbelievably supportive," Bulebush said. "It's almost like everyone knows everyone."

As is true with thousands of families who have lost loved ones in Afghanistan and Iraq, a firm support structure will continue be critical for young Max in the years to come. To truly show our gratitude to the relatives of those who have made the ultimate sacrifice, we must make the same promise that God made to Joshua. We will not fail them, nor forsake them.

"Josh's Dad, Mike, just keeps giving Max big hugs," Bulebush said. "I think he knows everything will be OK."

In America, everything will be OK, and it's not just because Osama bin Laden can no longer harm us. It's because since a terrible September morning almost 10 years ago, heroes like Capt. Joshua McClimans have fought, and will continue to fight.


Saturday, May 7, 2011

Making History

Image courtesy: Vazquez family/Facebook

William Semon was sitting in his first history class at New Jersey's Mercer County Community College when a classmate offered his hand in friendship.

"Hey, my name's Omar," future Army 1st Lt. Omar Vazquez said.

Since meeting in 2003, the year the United States removed Saddam Hussein from power, Semon and Vazquez were inseparable, frequently meeting for lunch and having spirited discussions about their favorite subject: history.

"He was just that type of guy: fun to be around and always looking for a debate," Semon told The Unknown Soldiers. "He could convince you that the grass was blue, even though you knew it was green."

Shortly after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, for which Osama bin Laden was brought to justice on May 1, Vazquez had convinced himself that serving his country would be a crucial part of his life journey. But first, he drove himself down a path of academic achievement.

"He didn't need to go into the military," Semon, who once tried to sway Vazquez from a military career out of concern for his safety, says. "It was something he wanted to do."

After earning his associate degree, Vazquez entered the ROTC program at Rider University, where he majored in history. He went on to earn a master's degree in liberal studies on the Camden campus of Rutgers University. After a rigorous period of mental and physical training, Vazquez was ready to lead.

"He took his role as a leader very seriously," his buddy says. "But he took his role as a friend very seriously, too."

Even while deployed overseas, the platoon leader would constantly call home to check on his mom, dad, three siblings and friends. Semon remembers getting a call from Iraq while going through a difficult personal matter.

"He's in the middle of a war, but he wants to make sure everyone else is OK," Semon says. "I think that's why his men really respected him as a leader."

Semon did whatever he could to help his friend's platoon during their deployment. After Vazquez mentioned that it was hard to keep clean while deployed, Semon hurried over to the local Costco.

"I got a huge package of about 1,000 baby wipes," Semon says with a chuckle. "He contacted me and said, 'Thanks, but please don't send any more baby wipes!'"

It would be one of the last times Semon would talk to his dear friend. According to the Pentagon, Vazquez, 25, was killed on April 22 in Numaniyah, Iraq, when terrorists attacked his unit with an improvised explosive device. Also killed was Pfc. Antonio Stiggins, 25, who also served with the Army's 2nd Squadron, 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment.

"I figured he was injured," Semon says of first receiving word that something had gone wrong. "I hadn't heard anything on the news ... I hadn't heard about any deaths in Iraq that day."

In tragedy's wake, Semon is picking himself up by reflecting on the privilege of knowing such an accomplished, selfless individual.

"He was a guy that had a lot of plans ... a lot of plans and a lot of potential," says Semon as his voice softens. "It's a shame to see someone that great not here anymore."

Semon, while noting how deeply 9/11 affected Vazquez, says the daring U.S. military operation to kill bin Laden would have made his friend, who died just nine days prior, enormously proud, particularly because there were no American casualties.

Omar's father, speaking to CBS 3 Philadelphia from the Vazquez family's Hamilton Township, N.J., home, agreed.

"I feel sorry for my son's death, but I don't feel sorry for him," Pablo Vazquez said of the defeated terrorist.

First Lt. Omar Vazquez learned to speak Arabic and was teaching himself Russian while deployed to Iraq. The intellectually curious warrior desired another master's degree before pursuing his doctorate.

"He was one hell of a guy. I don't know any other way to say it," Semon says. "A true scholar, a gentleman and a soldier."

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are not over because Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden are dead. American troops are still making history, as the story of one of its most brilliant students teaches us.


Image courtesy: U.S. Air Force/Roland Balik

Thursday, May 5, 2011

The boys of Abbottabad

"Behind me is a memorial that symbolizes the Ranger daggers that were thrust into the top of these cliffs. And before me are the men who put them there. These are the boys of Pointe du Hoc. These are the men who took the cliffs. These are the champions who helped free a continent. And these are the heroes who helped end a war. Gentlemen, I look at you and I think of the words of Stephen Spender's poem. You are men who in your 'lives fought for life and left the vivid air signed with your honor.'"

On the fortieth anniversary of D-Day, the fortieth President of the United States, Ronald Reagan, looked directly into the eyes of surviving soldiers who climbed Pointe du Hoc's treacherous cliffs.

"Forty summers have passed since the battle that you fought here. You were young the day you took these cliffs; some of you were hardly more than boys, with the deepest joys of life before you. Yet you risked everything here. Why? Why did you do it? What impelled you to put aside the instinct for self-preservation and risk your lives to take these cliffs? What inspired all the men of the armies that met here? We look at you, and somehow we know the answer. It was faith and belief. It was loyalty and love."

While thinking about what our nation has experienced over the past several days, after one of the greatest wartime triumphs since World War II, the words spoken in France almost 27 years ago still resonate, with dramatic parallels. Like the American heroes in Normandy, the Navy SEALs in Afghanistan who helicoptered to Pakistan on May 1 undoubtedly knew that the most important moment of their lives had come. Like the brave men who confronted Adolf Hitler, they took it upon themselves to make sure Osama bin Laden could never kill again.

"The men of Normandy had faith that what they were doing was right, faith that they fought for all humanity, faith that a just God would grant them mercy on this beachhead, or on the next. It was the deep knowledge -- and pray God we have not lost it -- that there is a profound moral difference between the use of force for liberation and the use of force for conquest. You were here to liberate, not to conquer, and so you and those others did not doubt your cause. And you were right not to doubt."

While this site is always hesitant to quote politicians and does not endorse any viewpoint other than supporting our troops, veterans, and their families, Reagan's June 6, 1984 address is regarded as one of the finest military-themed speeches ever delivered by an American president. Historian Douglas Brinkley, who wrote an entire book about the speech, finds 'The Boys of Pointe du Hoc' unusually personal for a commander-in-chief, and thus even more powerful.

"You all knew that some things are worth dying for. One's country is worth dying for, and democracy is worth dying for, because it's the most deeply honorable form of government ever devised by man. All of you loved liberty. All of you were willing to fight tyranny, and you knew the people of your countries were behind you."

Upon hearing their orders to storm the Abbottabad, Pakistan, compound where the world's most wanted terrorist was believed to be hiding, Navy SEALs who would carry out the dangerous mission reportedly cheered. Think about that for a moment. When told that they must conduct a perilous mission, and possibly die, they cheered. That says so much about the fighting spirit of a SEAL, and our entire volunteer force. Even while fighting in the desolation of anonymity, they never gave up, and never will. These warriors of all races, religions, and backgrounds know their country is behind them. They might not always see it, but they feel it.

"The Americans who fought here that morning knew word of the invasion was spreading through the darkness back home. They fought -- or felt in their hearts, though they couldn't know in fact, that in Georgia they were filling the churches at 4:00 a.m. In Kansas they were kneeling on their porches and praying. And in Philadelphia they were ringing the Liberty Bell."

This time in Philadelphia, they were chanting 'U-S-A' during a nationally-televised baseball game. The images and sounds of that patriotic outburst will endure for many years to come.

The SEALs who killed Osama bin Laden trained exhaustively to earn the opportunity of a lifetime, and they did not waste it. Many will risk their lives again in combat, and perhaps some already have. As they know better than any of us, danger has not passed, and true evil still exists.

"We will pray forever that someday that changing will come. But for now, particularly today, it is good and fitting to renew our commitment to each other, to our freedom, and to the alliance that protects it."

There is a long, deadly struggle ahead for our military in Afghanistan, and danger for our troops still in Iraq. As someone who hasn't served in the military, all I can do is pray for the safety of our men and women in harm's way. I will also pray for families of the the fallen, and especially loved ones of so many American heroes killed and wounded in April, who are suffering at this very moment.

"Here, in this place where the West held together, let us make a vow to our dead. Let us show them by our actions that we understand what they died for. Let our actions say to them the words for which Matthew Ridgway listened: 'I will not fail thee nor forsake thee.'"

We do not know the names of the Navy SEALs who rid the world of Osama bin Laden. For grave, serious security reasons, I hope those names are not revealed anytime soon. Should any journalist uncover even one name before the military is ready to identify these heroes, they must do the patriotic thing. Wait.

Perhaps on May 1, 2051, an American president will be able to look these fine men in the eye, just like the commander-in-chief who addressed the boys of Pointe du Hoc 40 years after their date with destiny. He or she can thank them for an achievement that helped define a generation, and make sure that all of us, even children, always remember why we are living in freedom. But to me, it seems fitting that these Navy SEALs, who take pride in owning the night, are superheroes in silence.

"Strengthened by their courage and heartened by their valor and borne by their memory, let us continue to stand for the ideals for which they lived and died."

Somewhere in the moonlight, the men who changed the world are together, bound forever by an extraordinary mission that will always be inside them. As part of a legendary brotherhood of selflessness, these volunteer warriors personify the call of another commander-in-chief, John F. Kennedy. The SEALs asked not what their country could do for them, but what they could do for their country.

These are the boys of Abbottabad.

Monday, May 2, 2011

We will not tire

Images courtesy: Sgt. Randall Clinton

Many of us, including me, are exhausted from the raw emotion of Sunday night's momentous events. Yet imagine if you were sitting on a remote Forward Operating Base in the desolate wilderness of Afghanistan. For our troops in harm's way, who are coming off one of the deadliest months of the entire war in Afghanistan and an increased month of violence in Iraq, there is no champagne. There is only constant danger, camaraderie, and focus.

Mostly, though, our heroes in faraway lands simply miss their families and friends. They wish they could share this moment with them without having to make a phone call, send an e-mail, or contact them over Facebook or Skype. Yet our brave warriors need to know that they are still here with us at this hour. No patriotic American would dare forget all the sacrifices that were made, and will continue to be made, to make the elimination of the world's most wanted terrorists a reality.

The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are not over. As Americans, it is our duty to ensure that a reawakened public does not forget the nearly 200,000 U.S. troops still facing serious danger overseas. In the perilous days to come, we must also lend a hand to military families at home, as well as our troops and veterans who have returned from battle.

Just 24 hours before a group of heroic special operations warriors brought the mastermind of 9/11 and countless other terrorist attacks to justice, Americans were being inundated with non-stop media coverage about a royal wedding in London. We cannot afford to return to that mindset, especially as the fear of reprisal attacks grip the spouses, children, and relatives of U.S. service members still deployed overseas.

In the days to come, you can depend on The Unknown Soldiers to bring you the personal stories of brave volunteer warriors who never quit. As I said in Sunday night's post, they've lived every day of the past nine and a half years like its September 12, 2001. Our challenge as a nation, which is finally displaying the same sense of unity we all took part in after we were attacked, will be to live every day of the next decade like it's May 2, 2011.

Sunday, May 1, 2011


At 11:35 p.m. eastern time, an announcement by the President of the United States allowed us all to say five words that we have yearned to shout into the sky since September 11, 2001.


Tonight is for every American murdered in New York, Virginia, and Pennsylvania on that horrific September day. Tonight is for their families. Tonight is for all the innocent people around the world that al Qaeda has butchered and enslaved.

But tonight is also for every man and woman who, before and after that terrible September day, volunteered to defend this nation from evil, which Osama bin Laden personified during his despicable life. You, the brave soldiers, sailors, coast guardsmen, airmen, and Marines of the United States Armed Forces, are our heroes.

I am particularly emotional thinking about the families of so many fallen heroes you have read about on this blog. When I've asked family members and friends of our departed warriors why their loved ones volunteered to serve, I can't tell you how many times I've gotten a simple response: September 11, 2001. The sacrifices of those brave brothers and sisters in arms were undoubtedly on the minds of the valiant Americans who stormed the terrorist compound in Pakistan, and ultimately brought Osama bin Laden to justice.

Through nine and a half years of victory, defeat, struggle, and sacrifice, the men and women of our military never quit. Often with little fanfare, they stayed focused on the mission to make this world safer for our children. While the mission isn't over, tonight is as close to V-E Day and V-J Day as our generation will likely ever experience.

On September 11, 2001, New York firefighters heard screams for help as ashes and bodies fell from the gigantic twin towers looming above them. Rather than run for cover as fires burned and the buildings buckled, they ran inside, trying to save as many lives as possible, regardless of the consequences to their own.

On September 11, 2001, service members and civilians at the Pentagon were just getting into work when a plane slammed into the headquarters of our nation's defense. So many people who dedicated their lives to service were murdered at the Pentagon that day, robbing their spouses and children of precious time that they would have cherished.

On September 11, 2001, the passengers of United Flight 93 stormed the plane's cockpit and gave America its first victory of the war on terrorism. With no regard for their own lives, they spared the lives of even more Americans on the ground in our nation's capital.

The men and women of the United States military refused to let their fellow Americans down. To these brave volunteer warriors, as well as their friends in the intelligence and homeland security communities, every day of the past nine and a half years has been September 12, 2001.

Inspired to serve, hundreds of thousands of American heroes boarded planes and ships and went wherever they were ordered to fight. Thank you to every single American service member, veteran, and military family member for your selfless dedication during this epic struggle against the darkness of evil. Because of you, there is light, and we are free.

Image courtesy: Spc. Anthony Jones