Other Views: On Memorial Day, a time of reflection and remembrance


There are 201 soldiers' names inscribed in Joint Base Lewis-McChord war memorials dedicated to those stationed there who died as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Commemorations of the conflict in Afghanistan carry the names of 120 others.

Twenty-one are women and men whose hometowns span across Washington — places like Bellevue, Custer, Colville and Tacoma. They include Sgt. Jacob "Jake" Herring of Kirkland, who died in 2004 in Iraq. After a roadside bomb ripped into his vehicle, Herring was awarded the Purple Heart and given the option to come home. He decided to stay with his unit until the end of his tour of duty in May. On April 28, he was killed by an enemy grenade. He was 21.

"His selflessness illustrates his commitment to being a part of something larger than himself, and he epitomizes what we mean when we talk about building good leaders who are selfless," said Col. Kwenton Kuhlman at a remembrance at JBLM on Thursday. "His is but one story of many whose names are etched in stone on our memorial."

There are so many others, such as Pfc. Sam Huff. Born in Tucson with a man's name, she liked to wear false eyelashes and played flute in her high school band. She joined the Army as a first step in a career she hoped would take her to the FBI. Huff, an only child, died at 18 when a roadside bomb detonated next to her armored Humvee in Baghdad.

It has been about 20 years since the Global War on Terrorism reached its peak after the Sept. 11 attacks. For a generation of younger Americans, the phrase likely means nothing. For others, it hearkens to a time of fear and frustration as the nation hit back at foes real and perceived. According to the Defense Department, there were 6,785 deaths from operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan).

When asked about evolving views of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Kuhlman replied: "As a soldier, it's perhaps a little bit simpler. We're not unaware of the political context in which we operate but we do our level best to fight our nation's wars and do so in a just manner. We go and do our level best to win and to protect our brothers and sisters on our left and right."

Every year on the anniversary of the deaths of a few of his fallen colleagues in Kandahar, Afghanistan, Kuhlman said he pens a handwritten note to their families. "I think people just want to know that their loved one's sacrifice is not forgotten."

Memorial Day is the same thing writ large. Together, as a nation, we remember those who gave their lives in all wars and say simply: "You are not forgotten."


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