Remembrance.  Solemnity. Two words to describe this day, a day created to honor the fallen soldiers of the Civil War.  

Today, not only does Memorial Day honor all soldiers who have fallen since then, but also the monumental losses suffered in the tragic wake of September 11, 2001. There were many victims that horrible day.  There are those who lost their lives, those who lost loved ones, those whose lives changed forever, and those who will never know the world to be anything but what it is post 9/11.

I am part of a generation of young soldiers who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan following the event of four airplanes being hijacked by al-Qaeda terrorists, and the killing of thousands of innocent people.

I have stood witness to the deaths of my own friends, classmates from West Point, soldiers, and others fighting for our freedom and safety after the attacks on 9/11. I was lucky enough to see a world before that, but so many have grown up since this event with no memory of a world without war.

I remember war distinctly. In fact, it’s the last thing I saw with my eyes — men and women, fighting for this wonderful country. Men and women who lost their lives in the hope that one day this country would be free from all distress.  God spared my life, but I lost my eyesight to this battle.

So many of us lived before the age of terrorism, and so many of us have grown up in a world where terrorism is a reality that is never too far from home.

When thinking about September 11, 2001 and Memorial Day this year, I feel certain that we will never stop searching for an understanding of what took place that day, and I hope that we will have faith in God and optimism for what the future holds, despite the fact that so many of our lives are somehow defined by what happened on a sunny, clear morning 17 years ago.

For all those who have fallen in the fight for freedom and for this country, we honor you today and always. You never leave my thoughts and prayers. Let us, as a country, always honor your sacrifice and live up to your example to put others before self, and to believe wholeheartedly in the values and freedom of this country that you gave your lives for.

I’m highlighting my fallen classmates from the United States Military Academy as Stories of Hope. I pray you will take the time to get to know them, that we may all learn from their bravery and ultimate sacrifice. I hope their stories may serve as a beacon of light for those of us left behind — that we will live our lives in such a way that honors their sacrifice and challenges us to rise to their high standard.

You will read about Laura Walker, who was a bright young woman — America’s best. I still remember her smile and laugh. She was always happy, which I was impressed by, because I struggled my first years at West Point. She was always willing to help me. In fact, she helped me pass my freshman history course. She was so kind and giving.

You will read about Leonard Cowherd, about his optimism and positive outlook on life, and most importantly his willingness to help others.

You will read about Derek Hines who continued to fight after being wounded by enemy forces, a young man wise beyond his years whose legacy makes us all better.

And you will read about Rhett Schiller, who exemplified hard work, dedication and a never-give-up attitude in everything that he did.

We knew we were going to war when we graduated in 2003. What we were not prepared for was the grief of losing our classmates so soon. It made us all grow up a little faster, but it also made us want to live with greater honor, bravery and unity. Together, we carried on the legacy of our friends who had so richly blessed our lives and who continued to shape the way we carried the torch of freedom.

For all those who continue to fight and put your lives on the line every minute of the day, we commend you and we pray for you always! God bless.

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