For me, Memorial Day changed forever in 2003. It’s one thing to remember the hundreds of thousands who died fighting our nation’s battles; it’s another to remember the men and women with whom you personally went to war, some of whom never came home.
This monument at Fort Stewart remembers eight members of the Third Infantry Division Artillery who died in the first few weeks of what is now a five-year operation. Over 4000 have followed them in death, but these eight mean something extra special to me. The Division Artillery no longer exists as an organization, but these men whom I accompanied to war will forever be in my mind. May God continue to comfort and strengthen their families and the families of all the fallen.
So today I remember:
SFC Randall Rehn
SGT Todd J. Robbins
SPC Donald S. Oaks, Jr.
SPC Daniel J. Cunningham
PFC Wilfred Bellard
PVT Devon D. Jones
CPT Tristan Aitken
1LT Jeffrey J. Kaylor
This holiday is no longer about some unknown “them”; it’s personal now. And, as a consequence, I now also feel a very personal connection to all who bravely stood in the line of battle and gave the last full measure of devotion on our behalf.
Rock of the Marne
These are some of the words that I drafted when we dedicated the monument on the first anniversary of the conflict in March 2004.
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One year ago, our nation sent us to defeat Saddam Hussein’s tyrannical regime, set the stage for democracy in Iraq and further our own nation’s war against international terrorism. The 3d Infantry Division accomplished that mission in unprecedented fashion. The names of our battles tell the story of the war: Nasiriyah, Samawah, Najaf, Karbala, the Euphrates River, and Baghdad. In three weeks, we defeated division upon division of Hussein’s army and faced down a determined force of unlawful combatants hiding behind the protections we afforded Iraqi civilians. We accomplished this despite great challenges from sandstorms, extended supply lines and dangerous terrain.
Our victory, though, was not without cost. Eight Division Artillery Soldiers paid the ultimate price for our victory in Iraq, and we are here today to dedicate this monument to their memory. In purely statistical terms, our casualties were few. The skill, courage and professionalism of every dog-faced soldier in Iraq insured that most of us came home to our loved ones safe-and-sound.
But no Soldier is ever just a statistic. The Soldiers named on this monument were fathers, husbands and sons to families that still grieve for them. They were friends to those who still miss them. They were not just numbers or names on a casualty list. This monument is here to help us remember that. For those of us who deployed to Iraq, these names stir an emotional reaction whenever we hear them read or see them inscribed. We can see the faces and hear the voices of men we lived with, worked with and fought with. We remember where we were and what we were doing when they died – the sense of loss and the weight of responsibility. We know that we will never forget them.
Theses eight names are inscribed here so that future generations of Soldiers will remember these brave men, draw inspiration from them and follow in the path of selfless service.
These eight lives show us what Army Values and the Soldier’s Creed truly mean.
These eight names are inscribed here so that future generations of officers and NCOs will fully understand the importance of their leadership in both peace and war. Leaders are responsible for the lives of the Soldiers they lead. We must do everything humanly possible to make sure that our Soldiers are properly trained, equipped and led in battles yet to come. Lives depend on it.
But mostly, these names are inscribed here because it is our duty to remember them. These men paid the price for the division’s victory, for Iraq’s freedom and for our nation’s peace. They must never be forgotten. Those of us who returned from Iraq brought with us a renewed appreciation for the goodness of ordinary living and the gift of life itself. These eight soldiers were not able to return to the joys of family and friends, or to the hundreds of little things that make life good. Our nation must always remember the high cost of our freedom and never spend the life of any Soldier cheaply.
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As always, these words represent only my own thoughts surrounding the dedication of the DIVARTY Memorial Monument. It’s part of the speech I might have given had I been the commander; it’s not the transcript of any speech or official communication actually delivered on that occasion. These thoughts don’t necessarily represent the opinion of the Army or my church. I speak here only for myself.