As we celebrate our freedom this Independence Day, we must remember the heroes who helped bring freedom to the Iraqi people. Just as our independence was not won without cost, American—and British—men and women put their lives on the line to free Iraqis from Saddam Hussein’s tyranny. And with a tenuous peace, they are still risking their lives for the cause of freedom.
When his unit was ambushed by Iraqi forces near Nasiriyah on March 23, Spc. Joseph Hudson was one of six soldiers captured. Nine members of his 507th Maintenance Company died in the attack. The 23-year-old was held as a prisoner of war for three weeks. On May 29, Hudson re-enlisted, one of eight former POWs to do so thus far. His time spent as a POW, in fact, was part of the reason he committed to serve his country for another four years, telling the Associated Press, “I know my previous experience will help me in the future to train other soldiers.”
Spc. Edgar Hernandez was stationed with Hudson at Fort Bliss, Texas, and was also taken as a POW on March 23. Images of both men streamed across television and the Internet within days of their capture, as Iraqis had videotaped their prisoners and put them on display. Hernandez, who was badly bruised and had lacerations on his face in the video, matched Hudson’s bravery and patriotism. On Friday, the 21-year-old pledged four more years of service to his country—and a lifetime of commitment to his new bride, Edleen Aguilera.
Major Hal Sellers faced a dilemma before the war. His newborn son, Dillon, needed a heart transplant, because his little heart could not pump blood. Sellers, a 13-year veteran and his unit’s second-in-command, could have taken a desk job with the Marines to stay close to home. He chose instead to lead his fellow soldiers in the Middle East. Baby Dillon got his new heart on March 12, while his daddy was in Iraq. Though worried about his son, Sellers believes he made the right call, telling CNN, “I joined the Marine Corps. voluntarily, and not just for those times when it’s easy.”
Other heroes were not as fortunate. On April 19, Army Sgt. Troy Jenkins saw a young Iraqi girl holding a cluster bomb. He grabbed the explosive device from her hands. It exploded. In shielding the young child and his fellow soldiers from harm, the 25-year-old lost his left leg and two fingers on his left hand from the blast. Four days later, the hero succumbed to his injuries, leaving behind his wife of five years, Amanda, and their two sons, three-year-old Tristan and two-year-old Brandon, who have their daddy’s blue eyes.
Staff Sgt. Andrew R. Pokorny was one of two men manning machine guns in the rear of a 25-ton armored personnel carrier as it was on a routine patrol along the Euphrates River on June 13. When the vehicle went down a four-foot drop, the driver lost control, and the carrier flipped. As the vehicle began to flip, Pvt. Randall Funderburk was falling out—but Pokorny grabbed him and threw him back inside. The hero, who thought not about himself but his fellow soldier, was struck by the vehicle and killed. The 30-year-old, who was not even supposed to be out on patrol but insisted on going that day, left behind his wife, Martha, and their son, Kodi, and two daughters, Kristen and Andie.
Pfc. Jesse Halling enlisted in the Army following his high school graduation last summer. On June 7, his squad under guerilla attack from Saddam loyalists positioned on the rooftops, Halling went out with two other soldiers to engage the enemy. The 19-year-old from Indianapolis was firing a machine gun from atop a Humvee while telling the others inside the vehicle to take cover from the rocket-propelled grenades. Even under intense incoming fire, Halling chose to stay at his post rather than taking shelter inside the Humvee. Shrapnel from an exploding grenade ripped through the hero’s jaw. Halling died soon after at the hospital.
At the funeral, Brig. Gen. Randal Castro told Halling’s family. “There are three to five soldiers alive today because of Jesse’s heroism.”