W. Thomas Smith, Jr

This Memorial Day week – I say week, because Monday was MD observed, Wednesday is MD actual – we remember lives lost in all of America’s wars since 1775. But I personally feel it is especially important to remember the most recent losses.

This is not to suggest that recent losses are somehow more important than those of the past. They’re not.

But to the families of our soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, and Coast Guardsmen killed in action since 9/11, the losses are still so grievously raw. And it would be selfishly shameful for any one of us to forget that, or them (the families).

I’ve certainly lost Marine buddies and other friends in peace and in war. I’ve lost family members very close to me. I’ve known parents who’ve lost children (my mother lost my younger brother, and my stepdad lost two of his own). But the experience of loss doesn’t make the knowledge of others’ losses any easier. In fact, I would argue, it makes it tougher: Because we know how bad losses hurt, and how deep and endless those voids seem.

Which brings me to this Memorial Day week; those who have been killed in the service of our country; and a new book, Faces of Freedom, I helped write and edit.

I’ll get to the book in a moment. First I want to share a bit of one of the conversations I had – while working on the book – with the mother of soldier who was killed in Iraq. I want to share this because it speaks so much to the heart of a fresh loss: Something so many Americans fail to consider as the terrible price paid for our freedoms.

Last year, I interviewed Regina and Robert Gilbert of Brattleboro, Vermont, a mom and dad who lost their only child, Kyle, a 20-year-old paratrooper with the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division in early August 2003.

I’ve interviewed many people over the years, but this was probably the toughest.

In fact, following my initial conversation with Regina, I was so emotionally stirred; I had to phone a close friend to get past it for the moment so I could get to the rest of the day’s work (Other contributors later told me their experiences were similar.).

Regina began by telling me about Kyle, and the incredibly close “let’s-do-everything-together” life the three of them shared before Kyle was killed in Iraq. As a little boy, Kyle loved Mickey Mouse, pirates, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. As a young teenager, he was in to martial arts. When Kyle became a paratrooper, Robert – a former Special Forces soldier – had the honor of pinning a pair of silver airborne wings to Kyle’s chest.

Following the attacks of 9/11, Regina and Robert received a phone call from Kyle, then stationed at Fort Bragg, N.C.

W. Thomas Smith, Jr

W. Thomas Smith Jr. is a former U.S. Marine rifle-squad leader and counterterrorism instructor. He is the author of six books, and he has covered war and conflict in the Balkans, on the West Bank, in Iraq, and Lebanon. Visit him online at http://www.uswriter.com.
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