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Honoring those who gave all

Hundreds of relatives celebrated the lives of departed loved ones lost in the war on terrorism during a national remembrance ceremony on the grounds of the Washington Monument.

The third annual “A Time of Remembrance” honored military members who died during the nation’s wars, as well as their families and veterans. It is sponsored by the White House Commission on Remembrance, established by Congress in 2000.

Carmella LaSpada, chairman of the “A Time of Remembrance” program, saluted the military families who attended the event.

“You, the families of the men and women who fought and died to preserve our precious land of hopes and dreams, I ache for your loss,” LaSpada said. “Your wounds are deep, and you are all bonded by a shared pain.

“Though your grief is overwhelming, we hope you’ll be consoled in the knowledge that others remember that you are not forgotten and never will be,” LaSpada said.

A number of distinguished civilian and military officials ascended the stage to praise the sacrifices of fallen military members and those of their families. About 200 children of military members who died during operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom received the commission’s Gold Medal of Remembrance at the ceremony.

Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Marine Corps Gen. James E. Cartwright greeted the children of fallen military members on the stage during the presentation of the gold medals.

America has always been fortunate to have those willing to serve the nation in uniform, acting Air Force Secretary Michael B. Donley said. To date, he said, more than 4,000 US servicemembers have died during operations in Afghanistan and Iraq.

“To the families, and especially to the children who will receive the Gold Medal of Remembrance today, those of us who lead this nation’s military, both in a civilian capacity and in uniform, are incredibly honored and humbled to be in your presence,” Donley said to gathered family members. “Please note that our nation will be forever grateful and indebted for your sacrifice.”

Donley introduced the event’s keynote speaker, businessman and military veteran Ross Perot, to the audience. Perot served as a Navy officer and is a strong supporter of the White House Commission on Remembrance and its “A Time of Remembrance” program.

“It’s an honor and privilege to be with you on this special day to honor our fallen heroes who made the ultimate sacrifice for all of us in our great country, and they also made the ultimate sacrifice for you, their families, because they loved you,” Perot said.

The Texas entrepreneur and former Reform Party presidential candidate quoted Abraham Lincoln’s statement that any nation that does not honor its heroes will not long endure.

Perot saluted Army Sgt. 1st Class Nathan Ross Chapman, a Special Forces noncommissioned officer from San Antonio, who died in Afghanistan in early 2002. The fallen soldier, Perot said, was the son of one of his former employees.

“His parents gave me a small bronze statue of Nathan in his combat uniform that I placed in the entrance of my office,” Perot said. “I walk by it many times every day and think of him and all the great troops that sacrificed their lives to give us the freedom in this country.”

ABC News White House correspondent Martha Raddatz served as master of ceremonies. “All around us are the hallowed memories of America’s heroes, the evidence that America remembers and cherishes its fallen,” she said. “We gather not to mourn or grieve, but to call attention to the fact that all of America’s fallen have collectively brought us to this place, to this time.”

Raddatz then read a message from President Bush:

“Today, the volunteers of our military are completing difficult missions in some of the most dangerous and desolate parts of the world with skill and honor. We are grateful to our men and women in uniform and their families for their courage and sacrifice during these historic times. Their service and dedication make every American proud. I appreciate those who support the members of our military and their families. Your efforts reflect the compassionate spirit of our nation. Laura and I send our best wishes on this special occasion. May God bless you and may God bless America.”

The remembrance ceremony also featured two foreign-born soldiers taking the oath of US citizenship. Spc. Nakisha Trisca Simon was born on Dominica, an island country in the Caribbean Sea. Spc. Morgan Fuentes Facundo was born in Mexico. Both soldiers have served in Iraq.

Raddatz also introduced recent Iraqi immigrant Nazar Joodi and his family. In 1994, during Saddam Hussein’s regime, Joodi was been accused of exchanging foreign currency. The Iraqi’s right hand was cut off during his imprisonment. After Saddam’s fall, benefactors brought Joodi to America to have nerves damaged by the amputation of his hand repaired. He soon returned to Iraq.

About two years ago, insurgents accused Joodi of being an American sympathizer and threatened his life. Joodi, his wife and four children arrived in the United States in March. In broken English, Joodi expressed gratitude to the audience for helping to bring freedom to his country.

Army Chief of Staff Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the son of a fallen warrior, noted the high cost of freedom. Casey’s father, Army Maj. Gen. George W. Casey Sr., commander of the 1st Cavalry Division, died in a helicopter crash in Vietnam’s central highlands, July 7, 1970.

“Throughout our history, our freedom and the freedom of others has been bought by the sacrifice and selfless service of men and women like those we honor today and whose memories are enshrined in the memorials that surround us,” Casey said. “I know that you will never forget the loss of your parent, but know that we share your grief and I share your perspective. And I pray that you will remember that your parent died in the service of this great country, doing what they believed in to maintain your ability to live, grow and prosper in freedom.”

Retired Army Gen. Barry McCaffrey remarked that such ceremonies help comfort surviving spouses and other family members who must continue with their lives after a military parent dies.

“These ceremonies are here for memories, for remembrances, for celebration; we don’t get over the loss of these loved ones,” McCaffrey said. The event was “a wonderful honor for the children of our fallen heroes and we’re proud to be here today,” said Virginia resident Maggie McCloud, the widow of Marine Lt. Col. Joseph T. McCloud of Grosse Pointe Park, Mich. McCloud’s husband died at age 39 in a helicopter crash in Iraq’s Anbar province December 3, 2006. The McCloud family includes a son, Hayden, and daughters Grace and Meghan.

Kenny V. Butler and his wife, Laura, traveled from Liverpool, Ohio, to attend the ceremony. They are mourning the loss of their 21-year-old son, Army Cpl. Kenneth Tyler Butler, who died in Baghdad February 1, 2007, when the military vehicle he was riding in accidentally flipped over into a water-filled canal.

Butler said his military policeman son “stepped up and did what he wanted to do” upon joining the Army in March 2006.

“I think it’s nice that they do this to recognize the fallen soldiers,” Laura Butler said. Her son, she said, was determined to become a police officer, and he told his parents the Army offered the best training to realize his dream.

Austin Tyler Butler, the Butlers’ year-and-a-half-old grandson who lives in Michigan, will receive the gold medal of remembrance in memory of his father.

A replica of the Liberty Bell was rung five times during the program to commemorate fallen servicemembers of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps and Coast Guard.

Korean War combat veteran Alfred Ortiz, 80, and his wife, Val, from Vienna, Va., were in front-row seats to observe the ceremony. Ortiz, a former Army master sergeant, served in the infantry in Korea from 1951 to 1952. Ortiz’ service in Korea was cut short when he suffered a severe wound to his left arm.

“I wish there weren’t any wars, because they’re all so bad,” Ortiz said. “But it’s something we have to do at times. It’s the high price we have to pay for freedom, but we’re proud to do it.”

Garry M. Green Sr. and his wife, Yvonne, came from Rosedale, Md., to celebrate the memory of their daughter, Army Spc. Toccara R. Green, who died at age 23, August 14, 2005, when her convoy encountered roadside bombs in Asad, Iraq. To date, 114 military women have died during operations in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The Greens have attended all three “A Time of Remembrance” events in Washington.

“It gets bigger and better every year. It’s wonderful. I just wish more families came out to partake of it. I think it would make a difference in their lives,” Yvonne Green said.

Toccara, the Greens said, was proud of her military service and aware of the dangers.

“Sitting behind a desk was not something she wanted to do. She had to be out there getting into the midst of it,” the fallen soldier’s father said. The couple’s son, Gary Green Jr., is a staff sergeant in the Marine Corps.

Amanda Doster from Manhattan, Kan., adjusted the bow in the hair of her four-year-old daughter, Grace Anne, as she described her feelings about the loss of her husband, Army Sgt. 1st Class James D. Doster of Pine Bluff, Ark., who died at age 37 during an insurgent attack on his patrol in Baghdad on September 29, 2007.

“The children are the ones that suffer the most” after the death of a military parent, Doster said. James, she said, had completed more than 17 years of Army service at the time of his death.

“He loved it, every minute of it, and he never complained,” Doster said of her late husband. “I am an Army wife, and I suck it up and drive on.”

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