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

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Always and Forever

Images courtesy: Crissie Carpenter

As we salute 9/11 victims and their families as the tenth anniversary of the terrorist atrocity nears, it is important to also remember the enormous sacrifices of the troops and military families who answered that day's powerful call to service. Lance Cpl. Andrew Carpenter and his widow, Crissie, are two Americans who I firmly regard as post-9/11 heroes.

If you didn't get a chance to read the Carpenters' story, see this photo of their infant son, or watch a speech delivered at the National Press Club about their emotional saga, this week of remembrance might be a good time to become familiar.

After her husband was shot by an enemy sniper on Valentine's Day in Afghanistan and hospitalized in Germany, Crissie Carpenter had to say goodbye to the love of her life by phone from Tennessee while eight months pregnant. Less than a month after her husband's death and just over two weeks after a stirring memorial service in Tennessee, Crissie gave birth to Landon Paul Carpenter. A hospital nurse gave Landon a onesie that read "Born Free...'Cause My Daddy Fought For Me."

I'm bringing up this important story again for two reasons. The first is to point out that every American baby born since September 11, 2001, has entered a land of freedom, which didn't happen by accident. In the gripping days after 9/11, we all worried -- and still worry -- about a nuclear device being detonated by terrorists in an American city, causing chaos and an end to life as we know it. By bravely taking the fight to America's enemies over the past ten years, as the world witnessed when Navy SEALs killed Osama bin Laden, freedom has been preserved.

The second reason I wanted to remind everyone of Lance Cpl. Carpenter's ultimate sacrifice is to demonstrate the similarities between the way Columbia, Tennessee, united behind the Carpenter family and how the country came together after the 9/11 attacks.

The funeral procession I was a part of after the Marine's memorial service was one of the most patriotic, unifying events I've ever experienced. In the days following her husband's death up to this very moment, relatives, friends, and total strangers have asked Crissie what they can do to help her and Landon. "Landon's Fund," which anyone can contribute to, was quickly set up by Regions Bank in Tennessee, and will help the child as he grows up.

The love and support Crissie has been showered with as she raises an infant son amid the pain of sudden loss shows that the American spirit we all witnessed in the days after 9/11 is still alive. Even though the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq no longer fill our TV and computer screens on a daily basis, we must continue to unite behind families of our fallen troops, as well as families who watched in horror as their loved ones were murdered by terrorists on September 11, 2001.

"Our love grows...Always and Forever" is engraved on Lance Cpl. Andrew Carpenter's headstone. A decade after the worst terrorist attack in American history, our love for the men and women who protect us grows too.

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