Bradley Byrne: The ultimate sacrifice

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Aug. 10, 2009, likely started as any other day for Marine Lance Cpl. Bruce “Bubba” Ferrell Jr. The Baldwin County High School graduate was on a foot patrol in the Helmand province of Afghanistan when he stepped on an improvised explosive device, or IED. The explosion took his life.

Army Chief Warrant Officer 2 Phillip Johnson attended the University of South Alabama before joining the Marines. He later left the Marines and joined the Army. In January of 2004, Johnson lost his life during a Black Hawk crash in Iraq.

Friends and family of Marine Cpl. Joseph “Joe” Whitehead from Axis in Mobile County called him “tough as nails.” He was tragically killed in 2011 by a roadside bomb while serving the United States in Afghanistan.

Marine Cpl. Christopher Winchester was a native of Flomaton in Escambia County. Before he left, he asked his pastor and congregation in East Brewton to pray for his safety. Tragically, he died in a roadside bomb explosion near Tikrit, Iraq.

Those are just a few stories of American heroes from Southwest Alabama who lost their life while serving in the United States military over the last decade. Unfortunately, there are far too many stories of South Alabamians who have made the ultimate sacrifice in conflicts ranging from World War I to Vietnam to the War on Terror.

As we celebrate Memorial Day this weekend, I hope you take the time to remember these heroes and all of those who lost their life while defending our country. I hope you reflect on what the holiday is all about.

Memorial Day isn’t about trips to the beach or family barbecues. Memorial Day isn’t about time off work or family vacations. Memorial Day is about the men and women, throughout U.S. history, who have given their lives so that we may continue to enjoy the freedoms we hold dear.

Memorial Day began in the years after the Civil War, and it was originally known as Decoration Day. It wasn’t until 1968, when Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, that the last Monday in May officially became Memorial Day. On this day, communities all across the country hold ceremonies to honor our fallen heroes.

As elected officials, we can never do enough for our service members and their families. We can pass important legislation to honor our veterans or we can work to ensure today’s military has the resources it needs, but nothing we do will ever be enough to adequately honor those who have given so much in defense of our great nation.

As humans, it seems like we are programmed to avoid any situation that would put us in danger. That’s why there is something truly remarkable about the men and women of our military who choose to run toward danger. These American heroes aren’t afraid of a challenge; when faced with adversity, they simply push themselves harder and reach even higher.

From time to time, I travel out to Arlington National Cemetery and visit the graves of Alabamians who are buried on the hallowed grounds. There is nothing more powerful than paying a visit to the 624-acre cemetery, the site of more than 400,000 graves. The small white tombstones stretch on for miles and serve as a small reminder of the sacrifice our service men and women make to defend our nation.

So to Cpl. Winchester, Cpl. Whitehead, Chief Warrant Officer Johnson, and Lance Cpl. Ferrell: I say thank you. Thank you for putting your nation and our freedoms above yourself. Thank you for the sacrifice you made so that others may live.

Thank you to all of those who have served, are serving, or intend to serve in the United States military. Our nation is forever grateful.

Bradley Byrne is a member of the U.S. Congress representing Alabama’s 1st Congressional District.

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