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Lessons from the front lines

Posted: September 11, 2014 1:00 p.m.
Updated: September 12, 2014 6:00 a.m.

“No day shall erase you from the memory of time.” - Virgil

How do Americans remember the 11th day of the ninth month one year into the 21st century? Are we reminded only for a scant 24 hours about the horrific events that occurred on this day in history? Or do we relive the day over and over in our minds and in our hearts without end? Do the numbers 9 and 11 fill us with anger and hate or do they stamp feelings of resilience and pride on our being? No matter what 9/11 brings to the conscience of each American, it is credible to say this day will never be deleted from our rear views. It can’t. It won’t. It shouldn’t be. It is history, a “memory of time.” And we can hope the memories of great loss and sadness continue in recovery to move toward ones of courage of loved ones lost as well as thoughts of pride and appreciation of a great nation.

This past Tuesday evening, I was fortunate enough to obtain (at the 12th hour) the last two available tickets for “An Evening of Honor” put on by the Lexington Medical Center Foundation honoring Medal of Honor (MOH) recipients, Maj. Gen. James Livingston, Lt. Michael Thornton, and Cpl. Kyle Carpenter. I asked my nephew to attend the event with me. He was quick to come to mind, as he is a wonderful example of a young American patriot. So off we went donning patriotic colors including a tie covered in small Old Glories worn by my nephew. I joined in by wearing the memorial bracelet given to me by the father of one of South Carolina’s fallen heroes, Ryan Rawl, who was killed by a suicide bomber a little over two years ago in Afghanistan while serving his country in Operation Enduring Freedom, and is one of many examples of a great loss for this country, for Ryan’s family, for Ryan’s young children.

To my surprise, at the beginning of the program, each MOH recipient was honored as it states in each of their official citations, “For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while participating in a daring operation against enemy forces.” We then listened to each of their stories as they relived in words the very events along with their heroic actions that were responsible for delivering the common bond between them -- that of their Medals of Honor. During the next hour, most in the room remained still and quiet, not wanting to miss one word of these heroes’ accounts of their service in the United States Navy.

In addition to their amazing stories of valor, we took away with us that evening several common and important messages from these brave men. They all brought attention to the fact that the very foundation of our democracy lies in the bravery of our military. Lt. Thornton referred to America as the “greatest country in the world” and the same for our military as “the greatest armed forces in the world.” Lt. Thornton added, “It is not about what I can do but what we can do together as a nation.”

Each asked us as Americans to support not only our military but their families as well for the huge sacrifices they are making as well. They strongly encouraged Americans to get up, be heard, and vote, in addition to encouraging others to be involved. Lt. Thornton added, “freedom is not free and we must continue to pass on the stories behind those freedoms.” Cpl. Carpenter closed by asking us to enjoy the simple things in life. There have been so many who have fought and died for that very reason -- so that we may live and enjoy our lives.

As we look back on September 11, 2001, this year and every anniversary, we must know even as the dark voids continue to tell the stories of loss and grief, Americans will always be capable of coming together and doing remarkable things. We must be reminded, just as this tragic day did, the values that bind us are much greater than the differences that push us apart. Grief is inevitable especially in the unsettling times we are in presently. But recognize the pride of being an American and of the label that adorns our armed forces -- “the greatest in the world.” The losses will never go away completely. We don’t want them to; they are embedded in our timeline. They are our history.

“Those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it.” - Edmund Burke

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