There are 5000 reasons to remember Memorial Day as we mark 9-1/2 years in fight against evil we used to call the Global War on Terror. For Michigan, 197 service members died in this conflict, defending our freedoms and way of life. In recent years, Dearborn’s parade honors its fallen veterans without resources or family for their own burials.
I appreciate Gov. Rick Snyder (R) carrying on the tradition started by his predecessor, Jennifer Granholm (D), of lowering US flags to half-staff for Michigan’s military personnel killed in action. I understand he also calls the families. While we can never know what this means to them, I suspect it helps in some small way. There is formal recognition for the sacrifice of their loved one.
As a Michigan Army National Guardsman, I have 12 fallen comrades. Last Thursday, we held a memorial service for them. It moved me to post a note on Facebook, which I repost here as my 2011 tribute to those who gave their lives in our defense.
For several years now, the Michigan National Guard has held an annual memorial service to honor our comrades-in-arms who gave their lives in the Global War on Terror. These have taken place during the two-week Annual Training period on the day of the Memorial Parade and Pass-in-Review. There is a monument to the fallen heroes, along with a plaque bearing each of their names, outside the Camp Grayling chapel.
The services were started to honor the service of those who paid the ultimate price, as a means for their families to cherish the memories of their loved ones, and as proof to the families the Michigan National Guard will never forget them. When I was assigned to Joint Force Headquarters staff, I didn’t attend the memorial services out of respect for the families. As a Battalion Commander, I was invited to the 2010 service, and rightfully so. I never knew SPC Richard Goward or SGT Matthew Soper and both gave their lives before I assumed command of the Battalion of which their units are now part. But they are my Soldiers. And I particularly remember SPC Goward—he was the Michigan Guard’s first casualty in the Global War on Terror.
Michigan has decentralized how it conducts Annual Training, so the memorial service was moved to Lansing and conducted today, fittingly, right before the Memorial Day weekend. Since I work full-time for the Guard in Lansing, I was able to attend. While I wanted to be there, I did not expect the service to be as amazing as it was. You usually expect these to be solemn events at which you pay tribute and your respects. We did that today, but, for me, it was bigger than that.
I don’t, personally, know any of our fallen heroes. Yes, two were from my Battalion and one lived where I live. That gives their paying the ultimate price a degree more connectedness, though all the other fallen since 9/11 are no less heroes. Today, my friend LTC Randy Brummette spoke about SFC Michael Hilton, who was killed in action while serving in Afghanistan in 2008. LTC Brummette commanded a small team, of which SFC Hilton was part, that also consisted of a Soldier I went to basic training with and another who was one of my company commanders when I took command of the 246th Transportation Battalion. LTC Brummette’s words were personable and emotional. And SFC Hilton is real to me even though I never knew him. I am truly fortunate for such an opportunity that most will never know.
Here are the Michigan Army National Guard Citizen-Soldiers who gave their lives in the service of their country and in response to the heinous, cowardly attacks of 9/11/2001:
- SPC Richard A Goward, 32—14 April 2003
- SPC Craig S Frank, 24—17 July 2004
- SSG Ricky A Kieffer, 36—15 March 2005
- SPC Timothy D Brown, 23—04 November 2005
- PFC John W Dearing, 21—21 November 2005
- SGT Spencer C Akers, 35—08 December 2005
- SPC Dane O Carver, 20—26 December 2005
- SGT Joshua V Youmans, 26—01 March 2006
- SGT Matthew A Webber, 23—27 April 2006
- SGT Duane J Dresky, 31—10 July 2006
- SGT Matthew J Soper, 25—06 June 2007
- SFC Matthew L Hilton, 37—26 June 2008
As the names of these brave Warriors were read today, I reflected on their contributions and the debt we all owe them, as well as all service men and women. But I also realized we have more fallen heroes than we typically consider.
In addition to SPC Goward, SGT Soper, and SFC Hilton, I also thought of SGT Anthony Burch. SGT Burch is an unsung fallen hero who committed suicide just 2 days into my command of the 246 Transportation Battalion. I never knew him, but he was an amazing person, by all accounts.
As a society, I suspect we take for granted and do not truly understand the value and worth our service members truly give and bring to the Global War on Terror. I’m sure it’s not callousness or lack of empathy. But for me, this has been personal since the beginning. I hope this helps you understand why.
SGT Burch is an unsung hero because his death is not attributed to combat. As an Iraq veteran, however, his family knows Tony Burch is no less a hero than those who died in direct combat.
Previously on Memorial Day: