Nearly all the Marines here have served in Iraq, Afghanistan or both theaters of this decadelong war. They know the true meaning of duty, honor and sacrifice. Many of them have lost comrades in arms on bloody battlefields along the banks of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers and in the shadows of the Hindu Kush. Though my "colleagues" in the mainstream media often portray these campaigns as "lost causes" and "wasteful," that's not how these warriors see it. They know they have made a difference for the country they volunteered to serve.
During our six hours at this "Crossroads of the Marine Corps," we talked with more than a dozen young Marines. All of them are proud of their service to our country. They all came or stayed because of what happened on 9/11. Without hubris or arrogance, they dismiss the criticism of politicians and pundits who posit that the sacrifices they have made are for naught or that the losses they have experienced have been in vain. Even more impressive are the comments of parents and loved ones who have had to bear the burden of losing a child, parent or sibling.
Over the course of 10 years covering this war for Fox News, I have met scores of Gold Star families -- the widows, children, parents and siblings of those who made the ultimate sacrifice. I've attended far too many funerals and memorial services with grief-stricken relatives of the young Americans we were privileged to spend time with in difficult and dangerous places. Yet despite the anguish and palpable sense of loss, there is always a tangible sense of pride in what their fallen family members accomplished in their all-too-brief time on this earth.
This week, standing in front of Conde Hall, headquarters of the Marine Corps' Staff Noncommissioned Officer Academy, we interviewed the father of the Marine for whom the building is named, Sgt. Kenneth Conde Jr. In 2004, our Fox News team was embedded with Sgt. Conde's mobile assault platoon of Weapons Company, 2nd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment in Ramadi, Iraq. On April 6, his squad was ambushed by a numerically superior al-Qaida insurgent force armed with machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades.
During the hourslong gunfight, Sgt. Conde was wounded by an enemy bullet that passed through his right shoulder. His Bronze Star citation for "uncommon courage and bravery as his platoon came under intense enemy small arms and medium machine gun fire" also describes how "he showed little concern for his wounds and personal safety and continued to lead his squad from the front, closing with and destroying the enemy position." After receiving brief medical attention from his platoon's Navy corpsman, Sgt. Conde refused to be evacuated and, moments later, "led his squad in securing another objective," where he captured an enemy combatant. Despite his painful wounds, he "continued to lead his squad in high intensity combat operations for the next 48 hours."
Shortly after the battle, Sgt. Conde consented to a live interview on Fox News Channel. I asked him why he refused evacuation to a field hospital -- and a possible trip home. His response: "There is no other choice for a sergeant in the Marine Corps. You have to lead your Marines." On July 1, just eight days after his 23rd birthday, Sgt. Conde was killed in action by an improvised explosive device that detonated beneath his vehicle.
When I interviewed his dad this week, Kenneth Conde Sr. told our Fox News team: "He was my only son, and I miss him more than I can describe. I'm grateful for the time we had him with us. He is still my inspiration. And this building named for him will motivate generations of Marines to the ideals of duty, courage and perseverance."
Those words from a grief-stricken father ought to inspire all of us this holiday season. Though few of our countrymen even know the name of someone serving in our armed forces, Thanksgiving is a good time to get down on our knees and thank God for blessing this nation with soldiers, sailors, airmen, guardsmen and Marines willing to go in harm's way to protect us all.