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Tribute to Our Troops Essay Contest Winners

Published: April 17, 2014

Reunion: The Magic Circle of Remembrance
By Ruth W. Crocker

By the time I was kissed by the eighth guy in line in front of me, my cheeks were scented with aftershave lotions. This was not a typical reunion. I hadn’t known any of these men, now in their 60s and 70s, until this moment. But they knew me. My husband, Army Captain David R. Crocker Jr., carried my picture in his pocket in Vietnam. He was killed while inspecting a booby-trapped bunker on May 17, 1969.

I met these wonderful strangers, by chance, because years later they had posted tributes to their beloved company commander (my husband) on the virtual Vietnam Veterans Memorial wall. Now, like family, we’ve met in different parts of the country every 18 months since 2006. Some are finding each other for the first time after three or four decades.

Listening to them rekindles memories. Each time we meet, more veterans of Alpha Company 2/22 Infantry have been located and the story stick is passed, bringing Dave back among us as a courageous, caring leader.

Those who served with a lost soldier hold the treasure of their memory. Stories keep their spirit alive.


Lesson in Sacrifice
By J.E. Joiner

Growing up in a rural community in Georgia, it was hard for me to understand the importance of the sacrifice our military makes. Outside of what I saw on television, I really never had any exposure to it.

In 1990, when the Persian Gulf War erupted, I was in sixth grade. One Sunday after church, my parents took me downtown to send off our local garrison headed to Iraq. There I saw a friend from my neighborhood preparing to leave to fight. A year earlier he had been a volunteer leader in my Boy Scout troop. Seeing him prepared to defend our country really taught me a lesson that day. My parents explained what a sacrifice it was to protect our country and how it was our soldiers’ jobs to give of themselves unselfishly to protect others. From that day forward, I have always appreciated our military.

On this Fourth of July, I would like to say thank you to our service men and women and a special thank you to my friend Jim for his role in the Persian Gulf.

Immeasurable Sacrifice
By Debra Madaris Efird

I have walked among the neat rows of white crosses at Normandy and hiked down the cliff trail to dip my hand into the ocean that was once red with the blood of our troops. I have strolled the rolling hills of Arlington National Cemetery, awed by the immeasurable sacrifice. So many soldiers whose lives were interrupted—how can we fully appreciate them?

Maybe by answering questions like these:

Who took on these missions?
My grandfather, father, and uncles did, and maybe your husbands, wives, brothers, sisters, sons, and daughters, too.
What do they give us?
Freedom, justice, security, pride, peace.
When do they serve?
Not just during times of war, but every minute of every day.
Where are our soldiers?
Over here, over there, on military bases everywhere. Under a hot desert sun and in cold gray rain, in remote jungles and bombed out cities.
Why do they do it? Why do they give up time with their loving families? Why do they relinquish the easy comforts of home? Why do they choose a way of making a living that can easily lead to dying?
Quite simply, they do it for you and me. Our debt is big. Honor them!

Help from the Homefront
By Caitlin Casady, age 12

Sergeant J. Matthews is an active veteran who served in Iraq. He joined shortly after graduating from college and immediately following September 11, 2001, when he decided it was time to do something about the terrorist activities that occurred on that day. He followed in the footsteps of his dad, who served in the army.

Basic training may be hard, but it helps you become close to your fellow classmates. After training, he was sent to Iraq.

He would not have gotten through the war without technology, faith, and letters. He was able to keep up with his family and friends from home using Skype to talk face to face with them over the Internet. He loved care packages from his wife and son because they would contain homemade cookies. He also loved receiving care packages that contained his favorite food: beef jerky!

His faith enabled him to keep going and his letters and phone calls were an encouragement during a time of anxiety. Sgt. Matthews’ bravery ensures my freedom. He is one of many servicemen who have sacrificed their time, family, and often their very lives so that the citizens of America can be free.

Silent Strength: Families Left Behind
By Cassie Tate

I stood in the cold, waiting for their plane, surrounded by women in silence. They all looked beautiful with their hair just right. We huddled together to keep warm, that way when our soldiers got off the plane, they would know that we waited until the end.

I remember one woman, standing to my right, with tears streaming down her cheek. Her husband had already come home; he came by himself. He fought the long fight, and took the wrong step. But he tried, and he made the rest of his men proud, and they stood tall, just like her. It takes a good man to have that strength, and it takes a better woman to stand there, with others, though she knows her soldier isn’t on that plane.

That’s why our soldiers are so special. Because they all stand tall and give the good fight. And when their time has come and gone, their women stand for them. And we remember the ones that we have lost, not just the ones we have won. That is our tribute to them, our way to give thanks, and salute that woman who stands alone. She represents many, and they represent freedom.

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