By Lawrence “Mack in Texas” Hall (Rated PG)
Last year I was asked to give a speech (“short,” they said, “keep it short”) at the high school to the students, veterans, and guests for Veterans’ Day, known in other allied nations as Remembrance Day. Because of my poor speaking voice (so much for any hope of a career in radio) few of those present heard it. In my vanity I think the message is good, and certainly our young folks are good, and so here it is:
Students of Kirbyville High School
Faculty and staff
Thank you allowing me to speak today.
There are many men and women from Kirbyville and Jasper County whose service and devotion to duty makes them far more fitted for the honor. But today I guess you’re stuck with me.
Master Chief Petty Officer Leo Stanley, who died last month, is one of those whose voice would be better today. I wish he could be here again to share this special day with you. He was a Navy Hospital Corpsman for forty years, earning promotion to the highest enlisted rank there is. In his retirement one of the ways in which he continued serving his country was by serving you, his beloved students, in your elementary school’s reading program. Many of you remember him with great joy, for he and Miss Mary loved helping you learn to read each Friday for many years.
If he were here – and perhaps he is – the Chief would talk about you and your service to God and country, and he would expect me to do so too. And I will.
I will begin with thirteen fine young folks of your generation who were killed last summer while serving humanity in helping refugees escape from Taliban-controlled Afghanistan.
You have all seen the photograph of Marine Corps Sergeant Nicole Gee cradling an infant amid the chaos at the airport in Kabul when everything fell apart. The picture is not a government propaganda photograph; if it were it would be of better quality. This is just a snapshot one of her fellow Marines forwarded to her. She sent it by email to her parents with the words, “I love my job!”
“I love my job.”
Those may have been the last words this United States Marine – with her hair tied back in a ponytail – said to her mom and dad.
On the 26th of August, Sergeant Gee and the others who were killed with her almost surely did not think of themselves as great Americans; they were too busy BEING great Americans.
They would have thought of themselves – eleven Marines, one soldier, and one Navy Hospital Corpsmen, just like your mentor Chief Stanley – as only doing their jobs in the heat and dust and violence of Afghanistan, helping civilians escape being murdered by the Taliban.
That’s what YOU would do. Don’t let anyone dismiss your generation with cheap and shabby stereotypes. YOU would carry a baby amid the screams and terror and dust and heat to a waiting airplane and then return to the perimeter for another child or young mother or old man or anyone who needed your help.
That’s what these thirteen young people did, and they were young, like you.
You could have even been on the same school bus run:
The oldest by far was Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Darin T. Hoover, 31, of Salt Lake City, Utah. Thirty-one might seem old, but he was young.
Marine Corps Sgt. Nicole L. Gee, 23, of Sacramento, California
Marine Corps Sgt. Johanny Rosariopichardo, another woman Marine, 25, of Lawrence, Massachusetts
Marine Corps Cpl. Hunter Lopez, 22, of Indio, California
Marine Corps Cpl. Daegan W. Page, 23, of Omaha, Nebraska
Marine Corps Cpl. Humberto A. Sanchez, 22, of Logansport, Indiana
Marine Corps Lance Cpl. David L. Espinoza, 20, of Rio Bravo, Texas
Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Jared M. Schmitz, 20, of St. Charles, Missouri
Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Rylee J. McCollum, 20, of Jackson, Wyoming
Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Dylan R. Merola, 20, of Rancho Cucamonga, California
Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Kareem M. Nikoui, 20, of Norco, California
Navy Hospitalman Maxton W. Soviak, 22, of Berlin Heights, Ohio
Army Staff Sgt. Ryan C. Knauss, 23, of Corryton, Tennessee.
They are your generation. They were killed in a scene of horror by a mad bomber who chose hate instead of love. His hate killed those 13 young Americans and wounded some 30 other Americans who were saving lives, and killed and wounded possibly 200 or more Afghans.
One unhappy young man chose hate. He doesn’t represent anything.
But your generation has chosen love, the love Jesus spoke of when he said, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”
And these young Americans gave up their lives for people they didn’t even know.
No greater love indeed.
We have spoken of these 13, but let us remember this: every young American in Kabul that day was saving lives – they were helping terrified people get to the airplanes, helping them to safety.
That is also the story of just about every American soldier, sailor, airman, Marine, or Coast Guard in our nation’s history.
If you look at us sometimes absurd old people, I hope you remember that we were once young like you – maybe when dinosaurs roamed the earth – and that every veteran you see before you gave up some of his or her own poor rations to help feed children, gave up some of his time and sleep and effort in helping those who were hungry or displaced, and risked his life to save others.
And finally, that’s your story too. You are going to serve humanity
in some way,
in some place,
in some time – as a soldier, a police officer, a volunteer firefighter, a paramedic, or as a good American civilian who stands tall when needed and helps the community in some way. You may not be called to carry a child to safety from Kabul Airport or from a wrecked car or from a burning building, but you will surely be called to help feed children, encourage children, coach children, teach children in Sunday School or, like Chief Stanley, help out with the reading program at the elementary school or at the library.
There’s an old Army National Guard recruiting slogan that says:
It wasn’t always easy
It wasn’t always fair
But when freedom called we answered
We were there
We and your parents know that, like the young Americans who always serve those in need, you will be there too.