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Faces of the fallen
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With our military presence in Afghanistan winding down, we tend to forget the casualties continue to mount. In the past 12 months alone, 244 Americans have been killed in support of combat operations in Afghanistan. From Oct. 10, 2001 to May 15, 2013, the total American casualty list is 2,209 killed, and 18,535 wounded in action.
The Military Times annual “Faces of the Fallen” Memorial Day tribute is “a final, grateful salute to the 244 Americans who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country over the past 12 months.” It’s a painful reminder, worth sharing with my readers who otherwise might miss the message.
The four-page tribute begins with vignettes from the brief lives of two of the fallen. “Marine Corporal Taylor Baune dreamed of going to college after his four-year hitch was up, then embarking on a career in law enforcement. He never got the chance; he was killed at age 21 by an improvised explosive device June 13 in Afghanistan’s Helmand province. Specialist Erica Aleckson’s dream was to make the Army her career-specifically as a military policewoman, so she could ‘protect people.’ She died while living that dream July 8, also at age 21, when she and five other MPs were killed in a roadside bomb blast while on patrol in Maiden Shahr, Afghanistan.”
The American dreams of Baune, Aleckson and 242 other U.S. servicemen and women were cut short by hostile fire. Most of them were in the flower of their youth when they died. Now they live on in the hearts, minds and memories of loved ones left behind.
Along with the fallen from all our wars, the 244 Americans honored by the Military Times and in this column deserve the thanks of a grateful nation. Their commitment, courage and sacrifice knew no limits – right up to their last moment on earth.
The color photos of the “Faces of the Fallen” are poignant proof that a picture is worth a thousand words. As I studied their faces, frozen there in time, I was struck by how young most of them were – in their 20s – some still in their teens. Yet, they volunteered for military service and went in harm’s way, just as generations of Americans have done throughout our nation’s history.
I was also touched by how familiar some of those fresh young faces seemed to be. They reminded of me of Bobby Ray and my four OCS classmates who were KIA in Vietnam. They also reminded me of Jeremy Brown, KIA in Afghanistan.
American Legion Post 173 and VFW Post 5064 will hold a Memorial Day service tomorrow morning at the Warren County Memorial Airport, starting at 7 a.m. The guest speaker is Col. Thomas C. Echols. It’s a good way to honor our fallen from all our wars, so I’ll be there bright and early. I hope to see you there, too.
Retired Army Col. Thomas B. Vaughn can be reached at tbvbwmi@blomand.net.