On Nov. 9, 2010, 2nd Lt. Robert M. Kelly, 29, stepped on a land mine while leading a platoon of Marines in southern Afghanistan. He was killed instantly.
In February 2012, his father, Lt. Gen. John F. Kelly, delivered a message to Gold Star families of 109 Marines, soldiers, sailors or airmen lost in Iraq or Afghanistan since 9/11. The families had come together to help each other with the grieving process.
John’s message was forwarded to The SUN by retired Navy SEAL Cmdr. Franklin Anderson. That email originated with retired Army Lt. Col. James Huffman. When such emails come from men of Anderson’s and Huffman’s caliber, they are worth taking the time to read.
John’s message said, in part, “Since the birth of our nation, 45 million have served in uniform. A million have died in its defense. All of them, but particularly the fallen, are part of a legend that, God willing, will never end — our America. The irony is that your loved ones who we remember this weekend came out of an America that no longer seems to value commitment, self-reliance, and selfless dedication to a cause … but they did. Rather, it seems most of our countrymen today are more interested in objects of status or what America can do for them, than serving the nation and protecting its people, and the principles for which it stands … but yours did. Most of the fallen we remember tonight were only nine or ten years old on 9/11. If they remembered anything about that day it might be the images of the burning towers, or the looks of concern and confusion in your eyes as you held them close that day as much to get comfort, as give it. A decade later, and much to your surprise I bet, they astonished you when after screwing up enough courage they marched into the room one day, or at dinner one evening, and informed you they’d decided to join … to serve.”
John has visited with thousands of wounded veterans and their families. When he was asked if it was worth it, he said, “I’ve asked this same question of myself a million times these last months, usually when I unexpectedly caught a glimpse of him in a picture at the house, or when a thought of an earlier time came to mind, or in a quiet and unguarded moment when his loss washes over me in emotions I still can’t control. Since the day I had my turn standing in the door looking into the glistening eyes of a casualty officer, and the day I woke my wonderful wife and crushed her heart with the news, and had to nearly pick my daughter up off the floor where she worked, I have desperately tried to convince myself that it was worth it. I have worked hard at believing his life was worth the sacrifice on the altar of America’s freedom. But it all came to me the day we buried him in the sacred ground that is Arlington, at Section 60, Gravesite #9480, that it doesn’t matter at all what I think. The only thing that matters is what he thought. That he had decided it was more important to be where he was that morning in the Sangin River Valley, Afghanistan, to be doing what he was doing with the Marines and Doc he loved so much and led so well in what was at that time the most dangerous place on earth. In his mind — and in his heart — he had decided somewhere between the day he was born and 07:19, 9 November 2010, that it was worth it to him to risk everything — even his life — in the service of his country. So in spite of the terrible emptiness that is in a corner of my heart, and the corners of the hearts of everyone who ever knew him, we are proud … so very proud. Was it worth his life? It’s not for me to say. He answered the question for me.”
His talk closed with, “God Bless America, ladies and gentlemen, may they rest in peace, may we who loved them find peace and understanding in their sacrifice, and that the America that they so loved and protected, and gave their lives for, is forever worthy of their sacrifice.”
This Memorial Day weekend, remember those who made the sacrifice for the many freedoms that many take for granted.
Terri Lynn Oldham House
Reprinted from May 28, 2014.