A month ago I noted that an unfortunate milestone had been reached: 2000 US military deaths in Afghanistan. I excerpted a news story about the milestone. Informative, but abstract.
Today’s we make the Afghanistan war more concrete by reporting two items: an upcoming commemoration of US war dead in San Francisco, and a story about specific US soldiers killed in Afghanistan and how their families and military comrades have responded to their deaths (including links to organizations you can support).
2000 Lights: An Installation to commemorate American service men and women who have died in the Afghanistan War
Date: Veterans Day, Sunday, November 11, 2012
Time: 6-9 pm
Place: Bethany United Methodist Church, 1270 Sanchez Street at Clipper, San Francisco, CA.
Excerpts from “Mother mourns ‘grim milestone’ in longest US war”
by Allen G. Breed, Associated Press, October 06, 2012
Lisa Freeman was cradling her 6-day-old grandson in her left arm and watching the news on her iPad while her daughter and son-in-law caught some much-needed sleep. The retired teacher was taking notes with her free hand when she heard the news: The nation had suffered its 2,000th casualty in the Afghan war.
On Sept. 29, Army Sgt. 1st Class Daniel Metcalfe was on patrol in the country’s rugged Wardak Province when his unit came under small-arms fire.
As the announcer droned on, all Freeman could do was shake her head and stare at little Matthew —- named for an uncle he would never know. Marine Capt. Matthew C. Freeman fell to a sniper’s bullet on Aug. 7, 2009, northeast of Kabul, not far from where Metcalfe perished.
Looking at the number 2,000 on the small, glass screen, Lisa Freeman felt as if she’d lost her son all over again.
“I just sat here, reliving the pain and wondering: Where is America’s outrage? Where is America’s concern that we’re still at war?”
“I walk around this country and look in faces that don’t even know we’re at war anymore. People that are going about their everyday lives, not realizing that they’ve been kept safe by this amazing group of young men and women who have been willing to sacrifice so much.”
Matthew Freeman excelled at everything he set his mind to. Eagle Scout, honor roll, student council president. So no one was surprised when he won an appointment to the US Naval Academy, following in his father’s footsteps. After graduation in 2002, the son and grandson of naval aviators took his commission in the Marine Corps and went for jets.
Freeman was stationed in Okinawa, Japan, in the summer of 2009 when a resurgent Taliban began retaking areas once thought pacified. When officers asked for volunteers to shore up the thin lines, the young pilot with the striking blue eyes stepped forward.
In July 2009, Freeman made a secret trip home to marry his high school sweetheart, Theresa Hess. He wanted to make sure she would be notified —- and taken care of -— should anything happen to him.
They were married on July 10, 2009. Thirteen days later, he shipped out.
Barely two weeks into his deployment, Freeman and a fire support team set out for reconnaissance in the Shpee Valley when they came under almost immediate enemy attack and became pinned down. According to an official account, Freeman fought his way into a nearby building and up to the roof to get a better angle on the enemy position.
Once atop, he spotted an insurgent with a rocket-propelled grenade and was firing at the man when he was shot in the back of the head.
Retired Marine Cpl. Michael Reagan knows something about long, unpopular wars.
When asked about his tour in Vietnam, he says simply, “I survived Con Thien.” Translated as “Hill of Angels,” the remote Marine fire base just south of the North Vietnamese border was the site of fierce fighting for a year beginning February 1967.
While there, Reagan sketched many of his buddies —- some of whom didn’t make it home alive.
In 2004, a national news show aired a piece on Reagan’s work. The next day, an Iraq War widow from Boise, Idaho, called him and asked how much he would charge to do a portrait of her late husband.
He told her there would be no charge; just send him a photo. When the woman called back to thank him for the sketch, he was overcome with emotion.
Reagan turned to his wife and said, “We need to do them all.”
Thus was born the Fallen Heroes Project. At the beginning, a general asked whether Reagan understood what he had gotten himself in for. Reagan replied that he figured the wars would last five years, and that he would have to no more than 1,500 portraits.
He has done 3,100 so far. And every day, he gets at least one e-mail, requesting another.
Joshua Welle was president of the Annapolis Class of 2002. But there were 980 midshipmen, and though he had heard of Freeman, he did not know him —- until after his death.
Welle, a lieutenant commander in the Navy, is back in the States for three weeks’ leave. He is using part of that time to travel the country and tell audiences about Freeman and other classmates who have sacrificed in the ongoing War on Terror.
The surface warfare officer is lead editor of a new book, “In the Shadow of Greatness: Voices of Leadership, Sacrifice, and Service from America’s Longest War.” Of the Class of 2002, four have died in combat, one lost both legs, and another won the Silver Star.
When [Daniel] Riley joined the Marines in 2007 at age 21, he was “fully aware it wasn’t a question of ‘if’; it would be a question of when I would find myself in Iraq or Afghanistan.”
On Dec. 16, 2010, Cpl. Riley and his infantry squad were on a dismounted patrol to clear a compound in the Marjah district of then-hot Helmand Province. The men had found and disarmed a couple of IEDs.
They were leaving the area when Riley took a step and felt the earth give ever so slightly beneath his right boot.
Buried beneath a “pressure plate” was a fuel can filled with ammonium nitrate — the same explosive mix used in the Oklahoma City bombing. Riley blacked out “for a split second, but woke up flying in the air and landing.”
The blast took off both of Riley’s legs, just above the knee, and three fingers on his left hand. He had about a week left on his deployment.
“I was, excuse the pun, I was one foot out the door,” he says with a laugh. “It was probably on one of the last patrols I would have done in my deployment.”
He’s 27 now, living in San Diego, and though he supports the war, he understands the frustration of many who want it to end.
The 2,000th casualty occurred at a lonely Afghan Army checkpoint along the main road between southern Kandahar and the national capital of Kabul —- an area of scrubby, rolling foothills dotted with Pashtun villages and trees bearing fist-sized, yellow apples.
According to Afghan officials, Metcalfe and his squad were on foot patrol when the checkpoint came under insurgent attack. Believing they were being fired on by their Afghan allies, Metcalfe and the others engaged the checkpoint, the officials said.
Metcalfe, a civilian contractor and at least two Afghan soldiers died in the firefight. The Pentagon is investigating.
Metcalfe … was an 11-year veteran … on his third deployment. He leaves a wife and four children, aged 11 months to 12 years.
Two days before his death, Freeman called his mother back in Georgia. He told her all about the friendly locals, and how cute the children were.
“The kids would rather have pens and paper more than anything,” he said. “Even food or water.” He asked if she would start collecting school supplies that he and the other troops could distribute in the villages. “Send as much as you can,” he told her. “I want to give them this.”
She was discussing the first fundraiser with her eighth-grade class at Richmond Hill Middle School when the Marines arrived to inform her of her son’s death.
His last request has since grown into the Matthew Freeman Project: “Pens & Paper for Peace.” In the past two years, the nonprofit charity has shipped more than six tons of school supplies to military personnel for distribution in Iraq and Afghanistan.
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