Our fallen heroes
The flag that was draped over the casket of Navy Petty Officer Third Class John C. Blake stands beside a picture frame of photos of Blake in front of a monument to Brattleboro’s war dead on the Common. Blake, who served as a Naval Corpsman with the 1st Marine Division during the Vietnam War, was killed during an artillery barrage on March 21, 1970. Both artifacts are now in the possession of incoming Post 5 commander Tom Costello, who was serving with the 1st Marine Division in Vietnam when Blake was killed.

Our fallen heroes

‘The heroes whom we remember today are not exclusive to any gender, race, or religion. They are a diverse group united by the common principle that America — and the people they serve — are worth dying for.’

BRATTLEBORO — Our fallen still speak to us.

If you listen quietly, you can hear them. I hear them.

I remember their voices from conversations I've had, sometimes minutes before they gave their last measure of devotion to our nation.

Even if you are not a Gold Star family member, a fellow Soldier, Sailor, Marine, Airman or Coastguardsman, friend or relative of a fallen hero, all you have to do is look around and you will see their legacy.

It is us.

We are their legacy. Americans gathered in a free society, unified with the common purpose of honoring their uncommon bravery.

Regardless of the place or the war fought, the purity of their sacrifice is without question. Young men and women gave their lives in order to make the freedom of others possible.

If you think about it, that is profound. They gave of themselves to provide others, people they have never met, the opportunity to live free.

* * *

Time permits me to tell only a few of the remarkable stories of our fallen, but they are representative of many. I will tell you of two from our deployment to Ramadi, Iraq from June 2005 to June 2006 - it is what I am most familiar with. First Battalion, 172nd Armor was deployed there after six months of training to help stabilize a very restive Al Anbar province.

MSG Chris Chapin of Proctor, Vt. was also assigned to an embedded training team. On Aug. 23, 2005, leading up to the Iraqi Constitutional Referendum and the first free election in Iraq in 30 years, he was on patrol, providing the civilian population information and encouraging them to vote for the referendum.

He was shot and killed by a sniper.

MSG Chapin knew the risks, yet went out on his assigned mission. I spoke with him about 20 minutes before he was killed. We talked about what he was doing and how his job was going.

Chris told me that he was happy in his work and that he knew he was making a difference, representing our nation as a professional to make Iraq a better place. He also understood that he was a part of something larger than himself, providing selfless service to the people of Iraq and to America.

On Nov. 2, 2005, Lieutenant Mark Procopio was patrolling the main supply route (MSR) north of Ramadi. We received word that a Marine Corps Supercobra helicopter gunship crashed in Jazirah, south of the MSR and just north of the Euphrates River.

Not knowing the status of the pilot and weapons officer, Lieutenant Procopio directed his patrol to travel to the crash site to render what aid they could.

Jazirah was a much-contested area of operations. Knowing the inherent danger of his decision, Mark went anyway. He did not hesitate or waiver from his duty. While en route to the crash site, he was killed by an IED.

Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends.

* * *

There are so many more stories to tell. Understand: the heroes whom we remember today are not exclusive to any gender, race, or religion. They are a diverse group united by the common principle that America - and the people they serve - are worth dying for.

We, as a nation, ask much of our service-men and -women. They willingly take on any assigned mission, no matter the personal hazards. They will, and should be, forever in our hearts and minds. No matter the branch of service, I ask that today, at least, we remember.

I would be remiss to not extend our gratitude and support for a group that nobody wants to join, but has already given their country so much: our Gold Star Families.

As we observe Memorial Day every year, these families remember their fallen loved ones every day. Children without parents, Gold Star mothers and fathers, spouses and siblings - they can still hear the voices of those they lost.

And it is up to us to hear the voices of these families, offer our support, and express our highest gratitude.

I will leave you with my favorite quote, from Thucydides, the Athenian historian and general: “The bravest are surely those who have the clearest vision of what is before them, glory and danger alike, and yet notwithstanding, go out to meet it.”

God bless you all, God bless America, and God bless our fallen heroes.

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