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FROM Lieutenant General John Kelly TO HIS FELLOW Gold Star Parents

I NEVER MET ANY OF YOUR LOVED ONES …your sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, and spouses. I also don’t know how you came to know they were lost in the wars waged today and over the last ten years in Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Yemen and dozens of other locations around the world. I don’t know the details, but the stories are ultimately all the same. Most often it started with a knock on the door, or a ring of the doorbell in the early morning hours by a casualty officer who’d been sitting outside your house waiting anxiously for hours for the first lights to come on. He dreaded the mission he’d been assigned that day. He was not glad to be there, but he was privileged to be there as the duty is a sacred one. It is an honor to be called to do it. Most often the casualty officer is a complete stranger. Sometimes he’s your best friend. The min- ute you saw him standing there framed in the doorway you knew…you knew with- out being told…before he uttered his first words…you knew.

After that it varies. Some then steeled themselves to walk up stairs to wake a mother, your wife, and break her heart as yours was broken only moments before. Some drove to a daughter’s place of work to tell her about a big brother now gone, and tear another heart in two. When you could you started making the calls… to your other children, your siblings, to uncles and aunts, grandparents…and friends. It’s hard to get through it but

you do…somehow…you had no choice. Every experience is different, but in the end it’s all the same. A family is brought to its knees in a grief that is unexpectedly physical in its impact on the body, unbear- able to the mind, and agonizing to the heart. A grief that never goes away. Not even with the passage of time. Then begins the waiting and the heart- ache seems to turn minutes to hours, and hours to days. You wait because there is little left to do as the military with preci- sion, and reverence, brings your cher- ished loved one home to the country they served…to rest in the good earth of the America they loved. Some of us went to Dover, others elected to wait at home not wanting to double the hurt. It doesn’t mat- ter. In the end, it’s all the same. Since the birth of our nation, 45 million

have served in uniform. A million have died in its defense. All of them, but par- ticularly the fallen, are part of a legend that, God willing, will never end — our America. The irony is that your loved ones who we remember this weekend came out of an America that no longer seems to value commitment, self-reliance, and self- less dedication to a cause…but they did. Rather, it seems most of our countrymen today are more interested in objects of status or what America can do for them, than serving the nation and protecting its people, and the principles for which it stands…but yours did. Most of the fallen we remember tonight were only nine or

ten years old on 9/11. If they remembered anything about that day it might be the images of the burning towers, or the looks of concern and confusion in your eyes as you held them close that day as much to get comfort, as give it. A decade later, and much to your surprise I bet, they astonished you when after screw- ing up enough courage they marched into the room one day, or at dinner one evening, and informed you they’d decided to join…to serve. You likely, and imme- diately, asked yourself: “Where the hell did that come from? I never raised him to go in the service…never thought of it… never wanted him to go to war…no par- ent would ever want that…oh my God, what if she has to go overseas?” It’s my bet you never looked at him or her again in exactly the same way, particularly if he followed it up with: and I want to be a soldier…or a Navy Doc…or a Marine. Even as a private citizen worlds away from the Pentagon, Baghdad, or Kabul, you know our enemy — the one your loved ones voluntarily stepped forward to fight — is slave to an ideology based on an irrational hatred of who we are. Nine- eleven and the scenes of devastation in New York and Washington was evidence enough of that. You also know through the media or perhaps from letters from Iraq or Afghanistan of his conduct on the bat- tlefield with the murderous beheadings, suicide attacks, and complete disregard for the innocents of his own country and

Continues on page 12

Crossroads Spring 2012 11

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