Honoring the Fallen This weekend on Memorial Day
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This weekend as Americans take a long weekend in honor of Memorial Day, it is important to remember the true meaning of the weekend. Memorial Day is a weekend dedicated to honor the men and women who have made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom. West Point has lost 92 brothers and 2 sisters in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and our country as a whole has lost over 6,800 men and women from the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines in the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Below are nine biographies of such heroes from Vietnam, Desert Storm, 9/11, Iraq and Afghanistan.
In our nation's history over 1 million servicemen and women have died in our wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Operation Desert Storm, Panama, Grenada, Beirut, Vietnam, Dominican Republic, Korea, World War II, World War I, Punitive Expedition to Mexico, Boxer Rebellion, Spanish-American War, Civil War, Mexican-American War, War of 1812 and the Revolutionary War. Over 1,100 West Point graduates have made the ultimate sacrifice.
Remember all of those who have made this weekend possible and all those who risk their lives today for our freedom.
CAPTAIN HUMBERT "ROCKY" VERSACE, USMA 1959
Captain Rocky Versace epitomizes all that West Point stands for and all that is meant by "Duty, Honor, Country." Versace was a Special Forces Officer who was executed by the Viet Cong as a Prisoner of War because he would not break under torture. He provided a great example of courage leadership under the harshest circumstances until his death. The enemy simply could not break this graduate of West Point, and so they executed him.
Versace was "short" on his second consecutive tour in Vietnam after having served for 18 months with the 5th Special Forces as an advisor to the South Vietnamese Army. Upon completion of this tour, Versace had been planning to leave the Army to join the seminary to return to help Vietnamese children. Instead, in his last month in South Vietnam, his unit was attacked, he was wounded, but continued to fight until his unit was overrun. He was taken prisoner by Viet Cong forces in South Vietnam and underwent some of the most horrific conditions, including starvation, physical, and psychological torture.
Versace was born in Honolulu, Hawaii, on July 2, 1937. His father was an Army Colonel, and Versace grew up as an "Army brat," living on military bases and attending high school in both Alexandria and Norfolk, Virginia. He attended West Point from 1955 to 1959 and was commissioned in the Armor Branch. After graduating from Ranger and Airborne Schools, he served in Korea in the 1st Cavalry Division. He then returned stateside to serve in the 3rd Infantry Division (Old Guard) in Washington, D.C.
Under President Kennedy, advisors were being sent to Vietnam in the early 1960s, and Versace volunteered for duty there. Prior to deployment, he attended Vietnamese language school and Military Assistance Institute. In May 1962, he began his tour as an advisor in Vietnam. In May 1963, he extended his tour by six months. On October 23, 1963, while acting as an Intelligence Officer for 5th Special Forces, his South Vietnamese unit was ambushed by Viet Cong forces. Although wounded, Captain Versace fought a withdrawing action, providing cover so that his unit could withdraw. He and two other Americans, First Lieutenant James "Nick" Rowe and Sergeant Daniel Pitzer, were taken prisoner. Although wounded and weakened, he resisted captivity and lived by the Code of Conduct from the outset. He attempted escape four times and was seen by the other prisoners as continually resisting the captors, insulting them in their native Vietnamese and also in French.
Over the course of 23 months, he never broke, despite repeated torture and abuse. His physical appearance witnessed by his two fellow prisoners showed that while his body was being broken, his spirit could not. He was finally separated from his other prisoners. The last time they heard his voice, he was singing "God Bless America," giving inspiration to his fellow prisoners and displaying incredible courage in the face of unbearable torture. On September 25, 1965, on "Liberation Radio," the North Vietnamese announced they had executed Captain Versace.
His fellow prisoner, Lieutenant Rowe, was a prisoner for five years until he managed to escape when he overpowered a guard. Rowe was the only POW during Vietnam to successfully escape captivity. He later documented Versace's story in the book Five Years to Freedom and personally appealed to President Nixon to award Versace with the Medal of Honor for his actions before and during captivity. President Nixon assured Major Rowe that he would do so. Both Rowe and Pitzer were the founders of the United States Army SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape) program at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, based on their own experiences and witnessing Captain Versace's leadership and example before and during captivity.
Colonel Rowe himself was Killed In Action when insurgents in the Philippines assassinated him in 1988. Versace was nominated for the Congressional Medal of Honor in 1969, but the award was downgraded to the Silver Star, even though President Nixon personally committed to assisting Captain Rowe with getting the award for Versace. In 2002, the "Friends of Rocky" were finally successful in getting him the well-deserved award for valor above and beyond the call of duty. Despite the fact that the only two witnesses and the nominee were all now deceased, the evidence of his heroism was overwhelming. On July 8, 2002, President George W. Bush awarded Captain Versace the posthumous Congressional Medal of Honor. Citation:
"For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while a Prisoner of War during the period of October 29, 1963, to September 26, 1965, in the Republic of Vietnam. While accompanying a Civilian Irregular Defense Group patrol engaged in combat operations in Thoi Binh District, An Xuyen Province, Republic of Vietnam on October 29, 1963, Captain Versace and the CIDG assault force were caught in an ambush from intense mortar, automatic weapons, and small arms fire from elements of a reinforced enemy Main Force battalion. As the battle raged, Captain Versace fought valiantly and encouraged his CIDG patrol to return fire against overwhelming enemy forces. He provided covering fire from an exposed position to enable friendly forces to withdraw from the killing zone when it was apparent that their position would be overrun, and was severely wounded in the knee and back from automatic weapons fire and shrapnel. He stubbornly resisted capture with the last full measure of his strength and ammunition. Taken prisoner by the Viet Cong, he demonstrated exceptional leadership and resolute adherence to the tenets of the Code of Conduct from the time he entered into a Prisoner of War status. Captain Versace assumed command of his fellow American prisoners, and despite being kept locked in irons in an isolation box, raised their morale by singing messages to popular songs of the day, and leaving inspiring messages at the latrine. Within three weeks of captivity, and despite the severity of his untreated wounds, he attempted the first of four escape attempts by dragging himself on his hands and knees out of the camp through dense swamp and forbidding vegetation to freedom. Crawling at a very slow pace due to his weakened condition, the guards quickly discovered him outside the camp and recaptured him. Captain Versace scorned the enemy's exhaustive interrogation and indoctrination efforts, and inspired his fellow prisoners to resist to the best of their ability. When he used his Vietnamese language skills to protest improper treatment of the American prisoners by the guards, he was put into leg irons and gagged to keep his protestations out of earshot of the other American prisoners in the camp. The last time that any of his fellow prisoners heard from him, Captain Versace was singing God Bless America at the top of his voice from his isolation box. Unable to break his indomitable will, his faith in God, and his trust in the United States of America and his fellow prisoners, Captain Versace was executed by the Viet Cong on September 26, 1965. Captain Versace's extraordinary heroism, self-sacrifice, and personal bravery involving conspicuous risk of life above and beyond the call of duty were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Army, and reflect great credit to himself and the United States Armed Forces."
COLONEL JAMES NICHOLAS "NICK" ROWE, USMA 1960
Nick Rowe is a legend in the United States Army Special Forces community. He was born in McAllen, Texas, on February 8, 1938, and entered West Point in 1956 as a member of the Class of 1960. In 1963, Rowe was captured by Viet Cong forces and spent five years as a Prisoner of War before escaping. Twenty years later, communist insurgents in the Philippines assassinated him in 1989, but his legacy endures to this day. All Special Forces soldiers are taught lessons from Rowe's personal experiences through the training program that he established after escaping captivity. Appropriately, many of these lessons are taught at Fort Bragg, North Carolina's Rowe Training Facility. He valiantly fought communism, first in the 1960s in Vietnam and then in the Philippines in the 1980s, where he made the ultimate sacrifice for his country.
After graduating from West Point in 1960, Rowe was commissioned in the Field Artillery and assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg. He joined the Special Forces and arrived in Vietnam in 1963 as the Executive Officer of Detachment A-23, 5th Special Forces Group, which was commanded by Captain Humbert "Rocky" Versace (USMA 1959). On October 29, 1963, after three months in country working with South Vietnamese forces, his base was attacked and overrun by a superior enemy force. First Lieutenant Rowe, Captain Versace, and Sergeant First Class Dan Pitzer were taken prisoner. For five years, Rowe was fed minimal rations - resorting to catching and eating rats and insects while exercising other survival techniques that he learned out of necessity. Captain Versace, the Ranking Officer, bravely resisted his captors and refused to break under intense torture until he was executed by his captors in September 1965. Sergeant First Class Pitzer survived four years of horrible conditions before he was released back to United States forces in 1967.
Rowe made several attempts to escape. Finally, on New Year's Eve day, December 31, 1968, his captors ordered his execution as they had done to Captain Versace previously. During a B-52 carpet-bombing mission near the area where Rowe was being held, however, Rowe took advantage of the chaos of the bombing, overpowered his captors, and fled to an opening where United States helicopter pilots spotted him and rescued him. Rowe and Versace were each awarded the Silver Star for their actions. Rowe's citation reads:
"Major James N. Rowe, Artillery, United States Army, distinguished himself by outstanding gallantry in action on 31 December 1968 while a prisoner of the Viet Cong in the U Minh Forest of South Vietnam. During the period 22 to 31 December 1968, after more than five years in Viet Cong prison camps, Major Rowe was forced by his captors to move at least twice daily to avoid friendly air strikes. On 31 December at approximately 0900 hours, two helicopter gunships began firing into an area approximately 300 meters from his location. The guard detail consisted of one Viet Cong cadreman and five guards, one of whom was assigned to remain with Major Rowe at all times. The guard detail, while monitoring a radio, learned that South Vietnamese Infantrymen were searching the terrain nearby. Becoming frightened, the guard moved Major Rowe into a large field of reeds, hoping to evade the Infantry force. Major Rowe realized that if he were to escape, he must first get away from some of his guards, so he tricked them into splitting into smaller groups in order to exfiltrate the area. Major Rowe persuaded his one remaining guard that they were being surrounded and kept him moving in a circle through the dense underbrush. While doing so, Major Rowe was able to remove the magazine from the weapon slung across his guard's back. Finding a club, he overpowered the guard, knocking him unconscious, seized his radio, and moved 200 meters into a grassy area. At great personal risk he quickly cleared a section and signaled one of the circling helicopters which landed and picked him up. His first action after rescue was to request permission to re-enter the area with combat troops and to continue the fight based upon his intimate knowledge of the area. Major Rowe's burning determination to escape, undiminished after five years of intimidation and deprivation, his clearheadedness in formulating an effective plan, and his audacity in executing it successfully, reflect the highest credit on his professionalism and extraordinary courage and are in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service."
Upon his return to the United States, Rowe met with President Richard Nixon at the White House and told of his story and that of Captain Versace. The Washington Post documented the meeting with President Nixon years later:
"The President wasn't prepared - I don't think anyone was - for what we were about to hear," said retired Colonel Ray Nutter, an Army Congressional liaison Officer who accompanied Rowe to the meeting. Rowe spoke for more than an hour, describing the prisoners' treatment and Versace's resistance. When it ended, Nixon, visibly moved, stood and hugged Rowe, Nutter said. Rowe told the President that Versace deserved the Medal of Honor. Nixon turned and told the liaison Officers to 'make damn sure' it happened."
Despite Nixon's verbal endorsement, Rowe's Medal of Honor nomination for Captain Versace was downgraded to a Silver Star. In 1971, Rowe published the book, Five Years to Freedom, recounting his ordeal in the jungles of Vietnam and also documenting Versace's extraordinary leadership and heroism in the POW camp. Although Rowe retired from the Army in 1978, he continued to work diligently, but unsuccessfully, to have Captain Versace's award upgraded to the Medal of Honor for his valor. In 1981, Rowe returned to active duty as a Lieutenant Colonel. At that time, the United States Army Special Forces School at Fort Bragg also recognized the need to establish a program teaching Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (SERE) techniques - and there was no better officer to lead the development of this program than Rowe. Based on his own personal experiences, as well as those of Sergeant First Class Pitzer, who joined Rowe as a civilian contractor at the school, they developed a world-class program to prepare soldiers for possible capture so they would not have to learn survival techniques "on the job" as Rowe, Pitzer, and Versace had been forced to do as prisoners.
In April 1987, Special Forces became an independent officer branch and Rowe traded in his crossed cannons of the Field Artillery for the new Special Forces Branch insignia of the crossed arrows. Rowe was promoted to Colonel and assigned to the Philippines as the Chief of the Army Division of the Joint United States Military Advisory Group (JUSMAG). In this capacity, he was charged with providing counterinsurgency training for the Armed Forces of the Philippines who were fighting against communist forces under the New People's Army (NPA).
While driving to work in Manila in an armored limousine, NPA insurgents attacked Colonel Rowe's vehicle. Several rounds passed through a small vent, hit Colonel Rowe in the head, and killed him instantly. He became the first officer Killed In Action within the new Special Forces Branch.
Rowe was buried on May 2, 1989, in Section 48 of Arlington National Cemetery. Inscribed on his gravestone at Arlington National Cemetery are the words from a poem he wrote in 1964 while in captivity:
So look up ahead at times to come,
despair is not for us.
We have a world and more to see,
while this remains behind.
The SERE school he developed at Fort Bragg now bears his name: the Rowe Training Facility. His legacy lives on through the lessons that will help soldiers survive in combat and captivity against future enemies of the United States. The obstacle course at Camp Mackall, a sub-post of Fort Bragg, is one of the most difficult courses in the Army and is referred to as the "Nasty Nick" in his honor.
Rowe's initial efforts to recognize his fellow West Point graduate and late commander's valor were not in vain. On July 8, 2002, President George W. Bush awarded Captain Rocky Versace's family with the Medal of Honor posthumously for the valor and sacrifice that cost Versace his life in Vietnam, but whose memory and actions were kept alive by Rowe and documented in Five Years to Freedom.
MAJOR ARTHUR BONIFAS, USMA 1966
From 1950 to 1953, the United States tragically lost 36,574 soldiers defending South Korea against North Korean and Chinese Communist forces during the Korean War. In this first major armed conflict of the Cold War, the United States, with the support of the United Nations, affirmed its resolve to support nations facing the threat of communist aggression. Although he was also Killed In Action in Korea, Major Arthur G. Bonifas did not die during the Korean War; rather, he ironically died 23 years later in 1976 after hostilities ended in Korea with an uneasy cease-fire as he was trying to maintain the peace.
While the Korean War culminated in July 1953 with an armistice, it still has never officially ended. North and South Korea remain divided by a tenuous area known as the de-militarized zone (DMZ), separating the two Koreas. United States, South Korean, and North Korean forces still regularly patrol the DMZ, adding to the uneasy tension that has existed since 1953 and still giving the DMZ the aura of a combat zone. Despite this 60-year armistice, the cease-fire has been intermittently broken leading to the deaths of more than 1,000 South Koreans, 600 North Koreans, and nearly 50 American service members in the vigilant defense of South Korea against North Korea. In a visual testament to what American soldiers continue to defend, South Korea has prospered since the war, transitioning from a primarily agrarian society in 1953, to one of the most technologically advanced and economically successful countries in the world. It also stands as a true political success story with a thriving democracy. In contrast, North Korea remains one of the last, isolated bastions of communism in the world, the polar opposite of its southern neighbor in terms of political freedom and economic success. It was in the preservation of these freedoms represented by South Korea for which Bonifas ultimately gave his life 23 years after the war.
Arthur G. Bonifas was born in Omaha, Nebraska, on April 22, 1943, to Raymond and Thelma Bonifas. He entered West Point in July 1962 after a year at Creighton University. At West Point, he was a member of the water polo and scuba clubs. Bonifas met the love of his life, Marcia McGuire, during Plebe year, and they dated throughout his time at West Point. He proposed while still a cadet and gave Marcia a miniature class ring as her engagement ring. Bonifas graduated with the Class of 1966, and he and Marcia were married on April 29, 1967. Their three children were born at each major stage of their Army career: Beth (who eventually would become and Army nurse) was born during their first assignment at Fort Benning, Georgia; Brian was born while Bonifas attended the Advanced Course at Fort Sill, Oklahoma; and Megan was born at West Point when Bonifas had returned as a member of the faculty.
After his West Point graduation and commissioning in the Field Artillery, Bonifas attended the Field Artillery Officer Basic course, then graduated from both Airborne and Ranger Schools. In his first assignment at Fort Benning, he commanded a battery in the 2nd Battalion, 10th Field Artillery Regiment. His second assignment took him to the war in Vietnam where he commanded a battery in the 5th Battalion, 16th Field Artillery Regiment, then served as that battalion's adjutant (S-1). After completing his tour in Vietnam, he returned to attend graduate school, where he received a master's degree at Syracuse University, and was then assigned to West Point, where he served as a professor in the Mathematics Department. He then deployed in 1975 on his final and fateful assignment as an Officer in the United Nations Command along the DMZ in South Korea.
Captain Bonifas was one of the millions of Americans who has served in South Korea since the ceasefire of 1953 in order to ensure that South Korea remains free. In 1976, he was assigned as a Company Commander at the Joint Security Agency Panmunjom, South Korea, and was only three days away from returning to his family in the United States. His bags were already packed and his wife was preparing his homecoming party. As he was transitioning with the Inbound Commander, an incident occurred on August 18, 1976, that became an international crisis. The incident involved a confrontation between North Korean and United Nations forces regarding a single Normandy poplar tree. U.N. forces wanted the tree pruned because it obscured the U.N. observers' view of the Bridge of No Return in the DMZ. Captain Bonifas and another officer, First Lieutenant Mark T. Barrett, were supervising a joint U.S.-South Korean detail to prune the tree when North Korean soldiers entered the DMZ and confronted Bonifas's detail. In an event caught on film, a North Korean Officer with a much larger force of North Korean soldiers attacked Bonifas and his group from behind with axes and clubs. Bonifas was unable to defend himself as he was beaten to death without provocation. The North Koreans then dragged Lieutenant Barrett into a ravine where they executed him. Along with the murders of Bonifas and Barrett, the incident resulted in the injury to four United States and five South Korean soldiers. This incident also nearly escalated into a full-scale war as United States forces were placed on high alert in one of the most tense situations of the Cold War. In a symbolic response, General Richard G. Stilwell, 8th Army Commander in Korea, authorized a show of force in the DMZ by having the entire tree removed by a large combat force. The removal occurred without incident and U.S.-North Korean tensions decreased shortly afterward.
At the time of his death, Bonifas was on the promotion list and was promoted posthumously to the rank of Major while being added to the list of the Class of 1966 graduates who gave their lives in service to the nation. The Class of 1966 suffered the highest casualty rate of any West Point class to serve in Vietnam with 30 of its members being Killed In Action. Although not killed in Vietnam, Bonifas is the only Class of 1966 graduate Killed In Action outside of Vietnam. As a result of this tragic event, Marcia Bonifas was suddenly widowed with three children. She eventually raised them in Colorado Springs and in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., where she pursued a career in assisting soldiers and their families with Tricare. Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, historian, and author Rick Atkinson documented the Bonifas story, along with the rest of the West Point Class of 1966, in his book The Long Gray Line. Bonifas was standing vigilantly at his post while carrying out his duty in South Korea as so many others have done for the past 60 years when enemy forces killed him. He returned home and was laid to rest in the West Point Cemetery. The base where Major Bonifas and Lieutenant Barrett were killed is now named "Camp Bonifas" in his honor, and each year, on August 18th, there is a memorial ceremony that honors their sacrifice to the nation.
FIRST LIEUTENANT DONALDSON P. TILLAR, III, USMA 1988
Donaldson (Donnie to his family and friends) Tillar is the son of Colonel (USA, Retired) and Mrs. Donaldson P. Tillar, Jr., (USMA 1959) and the grandson of Mr. and Mrs. Donaldson P. Tillar of Emporia, Virginia. As an "Army brat," he was born at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, and lived in Torrance, California; Montgomery, Alabama; Quantico, Virginia; Honolulu, Hawaii; Springfield, Virginia; and West Point, New York. He graduated from James I O'Neill High School in Highland Falls, New York, and attended Virginia Tech, as well as West Point. At West Point, he was a varsity lacrosse player and a dean's list cadet.
Tillar graduated from the Academy in 1988 after returning in 1987 from a year's study and cadetship at Virginia Tech and was commissioned into the Aviation Branch. Upon completion of the Officer Basic Course, Flight School, and Black Hawk helicopter qualification at Fort Rucker, Alabama, he reported for duty in the 1st Infantry Division (The Big Red One) at Fort Riley, Kansas. He was assigned duties as the division's quick-fix Platoon Leader and, later, Company Executive Officer. During this assignment, Tillar also coached the Kansas State University lacrosse club, establishing a "tradition," where former Army lacrosse players stationed at Fort Riley, coach lacrosse at Kansas State.
Tillar was killed in a helicopter crash, along with eight other soldiers, due to enemy anti-aircraft fire in Iraq on the last day of Operation Desert Storm. His body was recovered and returned to the United States in March 1991. He was buried, next to his grandfather, with full military honors in the cemetery in Emporia, Virginia, on March 16, 1991. Decorations for his brief service include the Purple Heart, Bronze Star, and Air Medal. He is survived by his parents and two sisters, Katherine Elizabeth and Frances Leilani.
During funeral services at the First Presbyterian Church of Emporia, Tillar's classmate and flight school roommate, Sean Deller (USMA 1988), rose and delivered the following eulogy:
"It is often said that someone 'lived life to the fullest,' but never was it more appropriate than now. However Donnie touched the lives of his family and friends, he inevitably left that impression. It takes a special kind of person to do that, and it takes a very fortunate person to have the loving family, friends, and talent to make it possible. Donnie had all that, and he appreciated it. He was grateful because he knew that there were too many people in the world whose lives would never be as happy as his."
And happy he was. Our photo albums are full of Donnie's smiling pictures. His list of achievements is long, but what really matters is the happiness, the happiness that he lived off of and then returned to us in greater amounts than he took. He taught us how to water ski, how to ride a motorcycle, how to play lacrosse and soccer. He encouraged us to live.
Donnie was the Captain of our weekly ritual to pick a place on the map and bring a party to it. Every weekend, he led the exodus from West Point or Fort Rucker or Fort Riley to go somewhere to enjoy old friends and make new ones. After one enjoyable weekend, as we drove more than 100 miles back to Fort Rucker, we could not help but feel that we had forgotten something. Unfortunately, we forgot Donnie. Knowing that it would take him hours to hitch a ride home, we waited in fear that he was going to whip our hides. And he did. But then he laughed. He laughed because what was important to him was not our gross mistake, but our friendships. Friendships that this, and other more trying situations, strengthened instead of weakened.
A product of his happiness was the abundant sense of pride and patriotism that was uniquely Donnie's. No one was prouder of what they did than Donnie. We teased him, as good friends always do, but deep inside we were all just a little bit envious. His selfless service and devotion to duty were always the example for us to follow. Had Donnie known what would happen to him, he would have gone anyway, because that is how strongly he believed in what he was doing.
There is nothing that I, or anyone else, can say to ease our sadness. The healing will come from within ourselves. It comes from all the great memories and it comes from encouraging some of Donnie's kindness, enthusiasm, and love into our own lives. Do not worry, Donnie; you will continue to inspire us, and you will remain in our hearts forever."
DOUG GURIAN, USMA 1986
On September 11, 2001, Doug Gurian, age 38, said good-bye to his wife, Susan, and children, Tyler (7) and Eva (4), and left his home in Tenafly, New Jersey, bound for a technology conference at Windows on the World, the famous restaurant on the top two floors of the North Tower of the World Trade Center. Gurian had previously worked for Cantor Fitzgerald in the World Trade Center but had recently changed jobs and was working in Midtown for a firm called Radianz. As fate would have it, he was returning to the North Tower for the conference. Gurian was born and raised in New York City and attended Horace Mann School. He entered West Point in 1982. At 6 foot 1 inch, with a 90-mile-per-hour fastball, he was a star pitcher on the Army baseball team. He was well liked and made lifelong friends. Upon graduation, he chose the Air Defense Artillery Branch and served a tour in Germany before leaving the Army in 1990. He had met Susan on a blind date in 1990 and they married in 1992. They were blessed with two healthy children and were living the life of the all-American family with a home in the suburbs and summer vacations on Fire Island.
That morning, terrorists hijacked four commercial airplanes. Two crashed into the World Trade Centers, one into the Pentagon, and another into a field in Pennsylvania. Gurian and 2,996 other innocent individuals had their lives cut short by these unspeakable acts of terrorism. Gurian was the first member of the Long Gray Line to die in the War on Terror, but he would not be the last.
President George W. Bush, in response to these unprecedented and unprovoked attacks, ordered immediate military action. Thus began a long war called Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan and elsewhere. Many soldiers and West Point graduates made the ultimate sacrifice. Gurian's friend and classmate, Colonel John McHugh, age 48, who would be the highest-ranking West Point graduate killed by enemy forces, died from injuries received from a Taliban car bomb in 2010.
The New York Times published obituaries for every one of the victims of 9/11. The last paragraph of Gurian's obituary read, "Mr. Gurian loved his children, Tyler (7) and Eva (4), most of all, his wife said. Eva is too young to understand what happened to her Dad, but Tyler told his mother, 'I just don't feel I'll ever be happy again.'"
On the 10th anniversary of 9/11 in 2011, Gurian's family, classmates, and loved ones still felt the pain of his loss, while they also remembered and celebrated his life.
Gurian and Susan's little girl, Eva, is now 14 and attending high school. Her post on Facebook sent as "Dear Daddy" on September 11, 2011, went viral around the country and would speak for the nation as we mourned the victims and remembered their families. He would certainly be proud of her.
So much has happened since you've been gone. I went to EMS for middle school, just like you did, and I won a scholastic award for my essay about you. I started high school a few days ago. I go to Holy Angels, but you know that because you were there with me on my first day. I made it into mostly high honors or honors classes. I also run cross-country now, just like mommy, and I'm very strong, just like you. We still go skiing in Utah a lot, just like you taught me, although I've become a better skier than I was when I was little, but you already know that. I have a lot of great friends, too. I know that you would love them, and they would love you, too, if they ever get the chance to meet you. We still spend a lot of time on Fire Island and around the baseball field, on which you were one of the greatest players ever. We recently had the over/under softball game in honor of you and one of your best friends, Doug Gardner. I hope you enjoyed watching the game and watching the overs win. Do you remember the ocean on Fire Island? Do you miss it? I usually don't go in because it scares me a little bit, but every time I see it, I think of you. I know how much you loved it.
I miss every moment I ever spent with you. Ten years later, the pain doesn't go away, it doesn't lessen, it doesn't fade. It still hurts like it was yesterday. Because I was so young, I don't remember everything. From what I hear, you were the greatest father, and person, anyone could ever ask for. I've heard just about every story of you out there, and just about every one made me laugh. They say I look so much like you, and I could not be prouder. I still try to make you proud of me every day, and I know you're always with me every step I take. I miss you and think about you each and every day. Everywhere I go, something or someone reminds me of you, and it brightens my day a little bit. They say you're in a good place now, with angels watching over you, and you're my angel. I know you would be proud of me. I know you don't want me to cry, Daddy. But sometimes I just can't help it. My life won't ever be the same. I won't ever be able to move on, but I know that I can move forward, and that will make all the difference. That is what will make you proud.
Love, your little girl"
Rest in peace, Doug.
COLONEL JOHN MCHUGH, USMA 1986
Hollywood has typically depicted military leaders as stone-faced, steely eyed men who never turn off the switch from high-intensity to light-hearted and compassionate. Apparently, Hollywood never met Colonel John McHugh. McHugh, a member of West Point's Class of 1986, was one of the highest-ranking officers to lose his life in the war in Afghanistan when a suicide bomber in a pickup truck killed McHugh and 18 others on May 18, 2010. To the end, McHugh was described as friendly, full of love and laughter, the antithesis of the stereotypical Army Officer.
"What I remember about Johnny Mac is that smiling face," recalls Bob Eisinminger, West Point Class of 1988. "Don't get me wrong, he knew when he had to get serious when guys needed to be put in line, but more than anything, I remember his smile."
Eisinminger not only knew McHugh as his superior at West Point; he knew him as the goalkeeper and Captain of the Army soccer team. The goalkeeper is not only a soccer team's last line of defense; he's the man charged with organizing the players in front of him, barking at them about positioning, imploring them and, at times, chastising them. It is hard enough for the keeper of an ordinary soccer team to handle this task, but to take on this job while playing behind future military officers requires something extra. "John was named Captain in the spring of 1985, as he finished up junior year," says Aaron Kuzemka, a defender from the Class of 1988. "To that point in his career, he'd never even been the starting keeper, but it was a no-brainer that he be our Captain based on his work ethic, enthusiasm, and the respect he had from everyone on the team. I can still hear his voice, telling us to mark our men tighter or to push up the field. He wasn't afraid to get in our face during games, but then on the bus ride home or in the locker room, he'd be smiling, making us all laugh about something that happened during the game." That McHugh was able to be a leader among leaders surprised no one who grew up with him. At James Caldwell High School in Caldwell, New Jersey, McHugh was not only the goalkeeper on a team that made it to the state finals; he was the catcher on a baseball team that won the prestigious Greater Newark Tournament. He was also known as an altar boy at St. Aloysius Church and diligent caddie at Essex Fells Country Club.
"The play that brings it all together for me occurred in his freshman year in high school,"
says McHugh's older brother, Jim. "John was playing at perennial baseball powerhouse Seton Hall Prep in ninth grade. There was a play at the plate and the runner going home collided with John, trying to dislodge the ball. The runner's helmet hit John just below the eye, opening quite a gash on his left cheek. John held onto the ball and the runner was called out. Bleeding from the cut on his face, John handed the ball back to the umpire and walked off the field, not saying a word. That play defined the type of leader he was."
In his hometown, everyone knew "Mac," the freckle-faced clean-cut kid who was always looking for a game, always ready to round up the gang and play ball.
"Whether in the classroom, on the playing field, or in more intimate settings with his many friends,"
said childhood friend Tom Beusse, now the publisher of USA Today. "We marveled at his constant energy, his persistent smile, his infectious laugh, his unmatched work ethic, and his incredible ability to lead. He had unwavering principles."
Discussions with then-West Point soccer coach Joe Chiavaro started McHugh's interest in attending West Point and led to the Honorable Joseph Minish from New Jersey recommending McHugh's appointment. He entered the Long Gray Line the summer of 1982. He entered West Point with little appreciation of military history but once he got there, he was hooked. The code of "Duty, Honor, and Country" was a similar philosophy to the team play he embraced as a soccer and baseball player. The worst part of his experience at West Point was probably the last week or so of basic training the summer of 1982.
"He got over it once soccer started,"
recalls classmate Jim DiOrio, who had grown up playing American Legion baseball with McHugh for Caldwell Post 185. "And soon after that, he was the go-to guy for a lot of our class. I had a moment early on where I was questioning myself, and he said to me, quietly, 'Meet me later at the chapel.' When we got there, he said he sensed I was lacking confidence. He said, 'Look around, Jimmy. You belong here. You are meant to be here.' I never questioned myself again."
A year after his graduation from West Point, McHugh married Connie Jensen, a high-school classmate he had begun dating while at West Point. Together they had five children, a son followed by three daughters and one more son. A few months before his life was taken in Afghanistan, McHugh had become a grandfather. Having grown up in a close-knit family of five children, McHugh was determined to never let his career in the Army interfere with his number-one priority, which was to be a devoted husband and father. McHugh was a helicopter pilot originally assigned to the Army aviation school at Fort Rucker, Alabama. As part of the VII Corps, 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment, McHugh's unit helped block the return of the Republican Guard to Baghdad during Operation Desert Storm. He was stationed in Germany twice, as well as at 4th Infantry Division, Fort Carson, Colorado; and at Fort Irwin, California; Fort Leavenworth, Kansas; and at the Army War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. He commanded the 1st Battalion, 11th Aviation Regiment at Fort Rucker, Alabama. Along the way, he coached his kids in soccer and told his daughter, Kelly, once he retired from the Army, he would be a full-time coach.
"As a coach, he was really quiet,"
said Kelly. "He'd never yell, but you knew what he expected from you. Everyone he ever coached loved having him as a coach - all my friends would list him as their favorite."
Shortly before he got the call to return to Afghanistan on a transitional mission, McHugh took a goal-keeping class, pushing his 47-year-old body to the limit for a few days. He joked with friends that he could barely walk after the course, but it was worth it. He was gearing up to watch the United States national team play in the 2010 World Cup as the team was coached by Bob Bradley, a family friend from New Jersey.
When McHugh's life was taken, Bradley spoke to his team about the Colonel, telling them, "You think what it means to represent your country, you think about obviously how important the soccer is, but how it's not even close to what it means to be somewhere else in the world defending everything." Said Kelly, "My dad would have been just as honored to know our United States national team understands that the reason they get to stay on the field is because of people like him."
In eulogizing her dad, Kelly said, "There are four things my dad loved: God, his family and friends, his country, and soccer."
Fittingly, the congregation smiled in McHugh's honor.
CAPTAIN JOHN RYAN DENNISON, USMA 2004
Some men live long lives, marking time to the monotonous beat of the daily humdrum, decaying in quiet desperation as they search for meaning and fulfillment, yet lacking the fortitude to strike the comfortable tents of familiarity and fearlessly pursue their dreams. John Ryan Dennison did not suffer from this malady. At age 24, Dennison departed this world at full speed, eyes fixed on his objective, far from the comforts of home.
Dennison wouldn't have felt cheated. In his final journal entry before deploying to Iraq, he wrote, "I am so very thankful that God has blessed me with so much! If catastrophe strikes in Iraq, I will still feel blessed because I have lived the equivalent of four-men's lives in my short 24 years on this planet. I owe it all to God, my Father. He blessed me with wonderful friends, family, and parents to adopt me! And most of all with my beautiful wife, my companion, my very best friend. I pray that I will remain vigilant and faithful as any disciple of Christ should be during a tour in the wilderness. Thank you God for all your blessings."
"Still blessed." That's us, actually. And these blessings began on February 22, 1982, the day Dennison was born, at Landstuhl Army Medical Center, Germany. Jack and Shannon Dennison adopted him at age of two months, and he became the oldest of three children in a family with a strong record of military service.
Dennison had no brake - only accelerator - as he navigated through his childhood and adolescence, seeking new experiences and more difficult challenges along the way. Any who were fortunate enough to call themselves fellow passengers on Dennison's journey, even at this early stage, could certainly attest to his intense passion for life. As a rare teen, Dennison was even passionate about reading, keeping books by great authors like Tolstoy by his bed.
The rest of Dennison's community became familiar with his drive and determination in high school, where he earned a starting job as an undersized offensive guard on a football team that won two consecutive state championships, and he also placed second at the state wrestling tournament. Dennison's prowess was not limited to athletics, however; he also received balanced recognition for his academic performance, leadership, and community service, earning induction into the National Honor Society, representing his school at Boys State, and volunteering as a Big Brother.
Given his high-school success, Dennison had countless post-graduation opportunities open to him; however, when he received an appointment to the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York, the combination of disparate challenges and the occasion to follow in his parents' military boot-steps was too attractive to forgo. Dennison matriculated to West Point in the summer of 2000, the genesis of his training to become a soldier and an Army Officer.
It generally proves difficult for a single light to shine distinctively in a room full of lights. West Point is such a room, populated by some of the brightest lights from across America. And yet Dennison achieved such distinction, although he was never one to distance himself from his peers as an end unto itself. He excelled in the classroom, earning recognition as a Superintendent's Award Recipient en route to earning his Bachelor of Science degree in International Relations. He excelled physically, becoming one of the highest-ranked cadets in his class in the fitness category, while also earning his Sapper Tab from the Engineer Branch's premier leadership school. And he excelled as a leader, rising to become the Team Captain of the West Point Parachute Team - one of the most selective and demanding teams at the Academy. Dennison encountered two life-changing experiences while at West Point. He was just beginning his second year as a cadet when terrorists attacked our nation on September 11, 2001. During skydiving practice, in the days immediately after the World Trade Center fell, he could see in the distance the dust and smoke still emanating from Ground Zero. This tremendous national tragedy profoundly affected Dennison.
As much as that event weighed on Dennison's heart, his heart sustained an impact greater still - when he met his future wife, Haley, a fellow cadet from the West Point Class of 2004. Dennison was absolutely head over heels for Haley. His classmate, Erik Wright, recalled accompanying Dennison to women's basketball games at West Point and observing how fixated Dennison's attention was on Haley's action on the court. Jack Morrow, another classmate, observed that Haley's influence stimulated Dennison to attend bible studies and to seek to better know God. They were married on July 17, 2004, just a few months after their graduation from West Point.
Only one branch of the Army would suit Dennison: the Infantry. He wanted to feel enemy soil give way beneath his boot; he sought the ultimate challenge of leading soldiers against a determined foe in ground combat. As such, he attended and graduated from the Infantry Officer Basic Course and Ranger School before joining his platoon at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, in 3rd Brigade of the storied 82nd Airborne Division. While stationed at Fort Bragg, Dennison would continue his record of graduating from rigorous Army courses by completing requirements to be qualified as a parachute Jump Master. In September 2005, Dennison deployed with his unit, the 3rd Battalion, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, to New Orleans, Louisiana, to provide support for victims of Hurricane Katrina. While this was not exactly the mission Dennison had envisioned undertaking as a Platoon Leader, he got his wish nearly a year later, five years after the attacks of September 11, 2001.
In August 2006, Dennison again deployed with his unit, this time to Kuwait, and by September, they were firmly ensconced in their assigned area of responsibility, a 200-kilometer stretch along the border of Iraq and Iran. This region had not seen United States presence in more than a year, a fact that became clear when local air reconnaissance assets found an enormous cache of munitions, bomb-making materials, and miscellaneous documents tying the cache to terrorists. After this tremendous discovery near the village of Turki, Dennison's unit spearheaded a three-month period of offensive operations, dubbed Operation Turki Bowl, operations for which the unit would later receive the Presidential Unit Citation - the most prestigious award that can be given to a combat unit. The insurgents in the Turki area were disciplined, well trained in tactics and marksmanship, and intentionally targeted the unit's leaders, according to Major Brett Sylvia, the squadron's Operations Officer.
And so it happened, on November 15, 2006, near the birthplace of human life, that one who lived his life to the fullest gave it up - while leading his platoon in ground combat against a determined foe, with enemy soil giving way beneath his boot.
Dennison was posthumously promoted from First Lieutenant to Captain, and he was awarded the Bronze Star and Purple Heart. More important than medals, however, was the praise he received for being a highly effective and charismatic leader, sentiments shared by his subordinates, peers, and superiors. Colonel Brian Owens, former Commander of the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, said that Dennison "was a superb young officer and warrior. He led from the front in all that he did." Colonel Andrew Poppas, Dennison's Squadron Commander, referred to Dennison as the "Gold Standard of the 82nd." First Lieutenant Robert Moore, the squadron's rear detachment Commander and a friend of Dennison's, was impressed with how much he cared about his men. "If they didn't have enough to eat, he gave them what he had. If they were tired he let them sleep and he stayed up. His paratroopers were his brothers and he loved and respected them."
John Ryan Dennison poured his heart and soul into every task he encountered, always testing his own limits in order to experience all of life - its peaks and pains, its successes and shortfalls. And yet he poured his heart and soul more fully into those he loved - his family, his friends, and his soldiers. They are all still blessed.
LIEUTENANT COLONEL PAUL JOHN FINKEN, USMA 1989
Paul John Finken and twin brother, Peter, were born on July 31, 1966, the youngest of 10 children to Edna and Charles Finken in the Midwestern farm town of Manning, Iowa. In this family, Finken learned and lived principles he modeled throughout his life: hard work, perseverance, respect for others, and most of all, love. During his youth, Finken developed his love for life, family, friends, and the outdoors in everything he did - delivering papers, doing farmwork, mowing lawns, and shoveling snow.
As a high-school student athlete, Finken wrestled varsity for four years and stayed in shape by running cross-country. On weekends, he worked for his father's business or his community. In Boy Scouts, he learned leadership and earned the rank of Eagle Scout. Graduating from Harlan High School in 1984, his enrollment into West Point was delayed one year as he obtained a medical waiver for his limited hearing - a result of his avid passion, pheasant hunting on his father's farm. After attending Iowa State University, his persistence paid off and he entered USMA in 1985. He made the West Point wrestling team as a walk-on. Ever the prankster, Finken consistently found new ways to make fun out of the mundane. Between his studies, athletics, and military training, he met his future wife and lifelong love, Jackie. They courted and were married in Earling, Iowa, on October 10, 1992.
Graduating in May 1989 and commissioned Infantry, Finken completed Ranger and Air Assault School prior to his first duty assignment in Fairbanks, Alaska. This initial assignment fueled his passion for the outdoors as he hunted and fished whenever possible in the Alaskan wilderness.
He started his life as a husband and father, the same he way lived his youth - committed to loving his family and respecting all. His military journey took him to Europe, where he commanded a company in the Bosnian/Herzegovinian conflict. After obtaining a master's degree in Operations Research from the Naval Post-Graduate School, his next stop was to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. His last military assignment was with the 101st Airborne Division.
After serving in various units and roles within the 101st Battalion Executive Officer and then Battalion Adjutant (S-3), Finken's final assignment was to the Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 506th Infantry Regiment. Again, Finken overcame adversity, being tasked to lead a "newly designed unit" - a Military Transition Team (or MiTT) whose mission was training the Iraqi Army. Only months before their scheduled deployment and initially only supplied with a desk, Finken dug deep and leveraged his lifelong principles: hard work, perseverance, and respect for others. He interviewed all possible soldiers being sent his way, ensured they were a fit for his team, and challenged them. Most importantly, he trained and developed them through his words and actions on these principles. He focused on physical, mental, and military training - crucial elements to bring soldiers home safe. He conducted plyometric and fitness training while in theater (achieving a personal fitness best only weeks before his death by benching 250 pounds), sought out extra firearms ranges before and during deployment so everyone could handle weapons in the face of enemy fire. This final assignment exemplified Finken's strong leadership abilities and maybe his greatest achievement, taking soldiers and equipments from various units throughout the division (similar to a real-life version of the Dirty Dozen movie), training, developing, and leading them into a cohesive combat team to train Iraqi's military (officers and enlisted) in military fundamentals: discipline, hard work, training, and respect.
During Finken's last mission and one week before his scheduled return home, a roadside bomb (Improvised Explosive Device) killed him, Staff Sergeant Joseph A. Gage, 28, of Modesto, California; and Lieutenant Colonel Eric J. Kruger, 40, of Garland, Texas.
Finken's love returned to him in death through the thousands who came and paid him respect in his hometown. The Captain of the Nebraska Patriot Guard Riders, Dave "DC" Charles, who escorted Finken throughout his burial, wrote in an article to the editor of the Harlan Tribune his thoughts entitled "Hero":
"...When I was growing up, it was instilled in me what great men were. They were conquerors, artists, philosophers, inventors, and the like that long after they were gone, their memory lived on with their accomplishments. As time went on in my life, these things gradually changed...this weekend...those prerequisites for greatness...taught to me in a town much like your own...were shattered. Myself and a baker's dozen of others escorted Lieutenant Colonel Finken home from Omaha's airport Thursday evening. Something told me I should see this man home completely and stayed for the next two days to honor him during visitations and his funeral. During those eight hours Friday and the funeral on Saturday, what I witnessed changed my definition of greatness. I watched hundreds of people stream by me on both of those days, each with a mission of their own...To pay their last respects and to say goodbye to someone special. In each of those faces I saw someone touched, literally touched by the actions and life of this man. In all of my missions, over all of the miles, I can honestly say, I have never experienced this sense of loss. In a town of 450ish, I saw hundreds waiting for Finken's arrival Friday evening to the church on the Earling, Iowa, hillside. Upon arrival, and his being taken into the church (where he was baptized, married, and his daughters baptized), they stood, in the freezing cold, absolutely silent, to enter the church. As the first group waited to enter, you could have heard a pin drop on that frosty night, even though we were outside. Not a whisper, not even a baby crying. They were all focused on one thing: Paul J. Finken.
This was when my mind changed about greatness. Those things taught to me, are forever erased as a requirements for such a distinction. You see, I never knew George Washington, or Aristotle, or an Emperor, and you know I didn't even know Finken before Friday. But through the thousands of eyes, the words, the tears, and my purely positive interaction with those in this small Iowa town, he has touched me, as well. I have to think just how much he would have affected me had I truly known him. This is my new threshold for my 'greatness' pedestal. For Earling, Iowa, you have your own hero, one who has changed the lives of many, well past your own. Be proud, be very proud. I am honored to have been among those asked to pay our respects and to honor this great man."
Finken's funeral service occurred on the 11th hour, 11th day, and 11th month in 2006 - Veteran's Day. Finken - a father, husband, brother, classmate, soldier, friend, and leader - was buried next to parents Charles and Edna, and brother John. Finken's siblings and families were all present: Steve, Alan, Rich, Dave, Jean, Mark, Joan, and Peter - sharing tears and laughs while recalling times he made them smile. Many others came - elementary, high school, and West Point classmates; soldiers he served with and lead; neighbors and friends - each honoring him in their own personal way for his service and dedication to country.
Most importantly, Finken's love for life, friends, and family are visible in life's supreme treasures he was responsible for: his devoted wife, Jackie, and three beautiful daughters, Emilie, Caroline, and Julia. They live today committed to Finken's memory, living life without someone special but touched by his love.
FIRST LIEUTENANT DEREK STEVEN HINES, USMA 2003
The Hines family never thought that they would lose their eldest son, Derek, in Afghanistan. Derek's father, Steve, a Massachusetts State Trooper, said that his son repeatedly comforted him: "Dad, I'm OK. Don't worry about me." So Steve tried not to worry, only looking forward to the day Derek would come home his mission complete. But he never did. First Lieutenant Derek Hines was Killed In Action on September 1, 2005, in Baylough, Afghanistan.
From an early age, Derek was curious and athletic, if somewhat accident prone. Steve recalls a fall in the doctor's office: stitches. Slipping off the stage during a school play: stitches. These left him, and Derek was soon setting an example to follow for his sister and two younger brothers in both sports and academics.
Derek's decision to attend St. John's Prep for high school was welcomed by his parents, though they worried about him making the jump to this very challenging academic environment. At the first parent-teacher conference, Steve recalls being shocked as Hines's French teacher called Hines a model student.
His parents had no worries about Hines athletically. Hines excelled at lacrosse and ice hockey, never letting his smaller physical size be an issue. Perhaps more importantly it is here where he first manifested his talents as a leader being selected as captain of the lacrosse team.
More challenges awaited Hines at West Point. Listed at a generous five foot eight inches in the West Point hockey program, Hines was one of the smallest forwards in all of Division 1 hockey. Hines never gave this fact a single thought, making the varsity his freshman year. His dad, Steve, recalled, "I remember Hines's first college hockey game in Minnesota, against Bemidji State, as though it were yesterday. He scored on his first shot on net, though he soon found out they weren't all going to be that easy."
What coaches, teammates, and fans noticed most about Hines was his tireless work ethic. On the ice, Hines was kinetic energy, constantly in motion, constantly badgering the opposition, and never passing on a chance to hit an opponent regardless size. He even had a fan club made up of local kids who cheered exuberantly by banging Heinz ketchup bottles against the glass anytime Hines scored or made a big hit. Win or lose, he would meet up with these kids and pass out sticks, autographs, or simply a high-five. Hines culminated his hockey career as a team captain.
All the while, Hines's mother, Sue, worried about what would happen post-commissioning. She asked Steve, "Aren't you worried about him having to go to war after he graduates?" Shortly after classes began in Hines's junior year of September 2001, the Twin Towers collapsed a scant 50 miles to the south. It was now certain that Hines's West Point class would go to war.
After graduating, Hines was commissioned in the Field Artillery and competed for a coveted slot to Ranger School, arguably the Army's most difficult non-wartime challenge. Hines earned his Ranger Tab, and he and his new unit the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team rotated into Afghanistan. Hines's primary job was to direct artillery support for an Infantry Company, a 100-man unit of riflemen. Hines's additional responsibilities included civil affairs missions, such as helping plan and build police stations, schools, and hospitals. His journal entries show a caring and introspective leader genuinely concerned with helping out the Afghani people. One entry made short after his arrival in Afghanistan noted his satisfaction with plans being made to start building a school: "Today I felt good because my work benefited the future of the Afghani education."
Hurried calls home were sparse with detail; instead, Hines was more focused on making requests for toys and school supplies for his new fan club composed of the local Afghani children. However, as incremental gains were made in improving infrastructure, the reality of the situation emerged. Terrorists were plentiful and intent on inflicting damage to the American soldiers. Hines wondered how he would respond to this threat. A journal entry read, "Courage. I do not know if this quality exists in me, but I hope when the time comes, I will respond."
Hines's question about courage was soon answered a few weeks later during a routine patrol. His convoy was ambushed and his 0.50 caliber machine gunner was wounded. Hines quickly replaced him on the 0.50 cal while leading the counterattack. Several soldiers were wounded, including Hines who was hit by shrapnel. Hines had won even more respect from his peers and subordinates and his Company Commander Captain Mike Kloepper would remember, "It was also immediately apparent that I had an Army hockey player on my hands. Supremely competitive, absolutely fit, exceptionally intelligent, with a work ethic that was unmatched."
As Hines's confidence and awareness grew, he felt a need to describe his observations to everyone back home. A July letter to the Newburyport Times was a sober commentary on his experiences. He felt a need to emphasize to the public that while there were community successes, the Army was facing a determined, lethal enemy daily.
Taliban attacks increased throughout the summer with one of their favorite tactics being planting roadside bombs. In mid-August, Hines's convoy fell prey to one. Four soldiers in the lead vehicle lost their lives. Hines was first on the scene and helped pull their torn bodies from the wreckage.
Ten days later, intelligence reported that the Taliban Commander responsible for the attack was hiding in a nearby house. As Hines's unit took up positions outside the house, two men suddenly emerged from the front door firing their weapons. The American response was swift, killing both Taliban members. One soldier was wounded, but it was a mortal wound. First Lieutenant Hines was Killed In Action in Baylough, Afghanistan on September 1, 2005. For his service in Afghanistan, he was awarded two Purple Hearts and the Bronze Star with valor device.
At Derek's funeral, his dad, Steve, observed, "After I received the news of Derek's death, I was angry at the world, the Army, the President, the war, even myself for letting him attend West Point. I quickly realized that to take this stance would minimize all that Derek believed in and all that he accomplished in his life because he truly believed in his mission that he was making the world a better place."
In 2007, Steve Hines accepted the NCAA's Award of Valor on behalf of Derek. This award goes to "a former NCAA varsity student-athlete who when confronted with a situation involving personal danger, averted or minimized potential disaster by courageous action or noteworthy bravery." At West Point each year, the hockey program now gives a Derek Hines Award to "recognize a person who has displayed an extraordinary amount of support to the program. Like Hines, this person cares more about giving than receiving." And the Derek Hines Unsung Hero Award is given annually by a committee of college hockey coaches to a Division 1 hockey player who was a "consummate team player and team builder." Hines's legacy of helping people lives on through his family's work in the Derek Hines Soldiers Assistance Fund, raising money to provide financial assistance to Massachusetts's soldiers, and their families, who have incurred serious, career-ending, and life-altering injuries while on active duty.
As Captain Kloepper remarked, "Derek Hines, I can honestly say, was a true and loyal friend to every person he met, and with a friendship that transcended rank and position, he was equally comfortable sitting with his Battalion Commander as he was the newest soldier to the company, showing each a genuine respect that was hard to turn away from."
These nine biographies are included in the award winning book
"West Point Leadership: Profiles of Courage"
which includes over 200 biographies of West Point graduates who have shaped our world. On May 28th the book will be awarded three Benjamin Franklin Awards for Best Biography, Best Gift Book and Best First Book from the Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA). It is the only book, out of thousands published in 2013 to receive three Benjamin Franklin Awards. It is a great gift book for any patriotic American for Memorial Day or for Father's Day. The book is now on sale for Father's Day gifts on Amazon with 10% off using the code "FATHERS". Order now for any patriotic father as a gift to be delivered by 15 June 2014.
This book is not affiliated or endorsed by the Department of Defense, the United States Military Academy or the West Point Association of Graduates. All books sent to members of Congress were privately funded. Please help promote the book by forwarding to your classmates so we can continue to fund give-aways such as we have done this week. We have given away over 2,000 books to high school principals, guidance counselors, coaches and others in order to promote "West Point Leadership: Profiles of Courage".