Every Memorial Day, I’m reminded of a quote from Thomas Jefferson: “The tree of liberty must be nourished from time to time with the blood of patriots.”
The last Memorial Day I spent deployed in combat was in Afghanistan in 2006. By that time, already in Iraq I had lost close friends and colleagues, Command Sgt. Maj. Jerry Wilson and Capt. Bill Jacobsen. Later in Afghanistan, another friend, Maj. Doug Sloan, would perish in a bomb blast, and Sgt. 1st Class Jared Monti was killed in a firefight attempting to save a stranded soldier. He was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor. Jessi Alexander later wrote a No. 1 country song capturing the pain of Jared’s father and how he mourns his son by “driving his truck.”
In 2007 Sgt. William Vile would demonstrate incredible bravery during an intense firefight in Afghanistan’s rugged Korengal Valley. I saw him get shot, tie off his own tourniquet and deny medical care until his mission as the mortar ballistic computer expert was complete and the attack was repelled, in no small part due to his efforts.
Jerry, Bill, Doug, Jared and William all nourished our country’s roots of liberty. We are free because of them and thousands of others who have gone before them. We owe our fallen servicemen and women this day, Memorial Day, to remember their sacrifices and the sacrifices of their families. War affects all of us – either with the pain of loss or thegift of freedom.
When deployed over Memorial Day, I invariably received kind notes from people thanking me for my service and asking what they could do for me. My reply was always simple, “Thanks for the note, enjoy the day off. We are here fighting so that you can be there doing exactly as you please.”
Freedom is like oxygen, it seems. We don’t miss it until it isn’t there. Let’s reflect this Memorial Day on the men and women who have nourished our liberty and celebrate the freedom they have provided us.
Secretary, N.C. Department of Transportation
The writer retired from the U.S. Army as a brigadier general. The length limit was waived.