On Aug. 15, 2008, I watched a man die.
They loaded him on a Blackhawk helicopter beside a dusty road in Wardak province, Afghanistan. He was an American soldier, gravely injured by a roadside bomb. He breathed his last as he was loaded aboard the medevac alongside several wounded. The faces of the dying man’s buddies were contorted with the anguish of loss—the kind of loss that scars a man for the rest of his life.
The helicopter took off in a cloud of grit as the remaining troops rushed back to their disabled vehicles and returned fire on the enemy still lurking in the hills. Dust swirled and the soldier’s bloody boots framed the open doorway. His dog tags said his name was Donny Carwile.
I later found that Carwile left behind a wife and two little girls, too young to really remember much about their dad. He had been a police officer, but volunteered for the Army after 9/11 because he wanted to do more to defend our way of life from those who would destroy it.
Ask a returning soldier, sailor, airman or Marine what’s the hardest thing about his job. The answers have always surprised me. Rather than complain about the long deployments, miserable conditions, constant danger or low pay, the refrain I most often hear is this: “Americans just don’t get it. They go to the mall and the movies with hardly a thought for the men fighting and dying even now to protect the prosperous bubble that is America.”
How hard is it, really? To stand in honor of the American ideal represented by that flag?When our troops get home, having spent months learning just how costly and precious is our liberty, they are often appalled at how cheaply we, their countrymen, treat it. Some people use the freedom bought with blood to whine about white privilege, or pad their backsides as they obsess over the scandalous behavior of some starlet whose life is as far from those warriors’ reality as that of the average Afghan goat herd.
And when pampered pigskin princes use their liberty to dishonor the flag that flew proudly over bases that were bastions of freedom in a place that has never known such a thing—the very flag that adorned the shoulders of those dead heroes—well that's just too much. To say our troops are disgusted would be an understatement. Fortunately for us, they believe enough in what they are doing to overlook such misguided “protests.”
How hard is it, really? To stand in honor of the American ideal represented by that flag? To note the noble sacrifice made by so many to defend it? We haven’t always lived up to that standard as a country, but if we don’t at least remind ourselves of what we intend to be, we’ll never have a hope of achieving it.
So that’s why I stand: For Donny Carwile, who gave his last full measure of devotion on a dusty battlefield in Afghanistan. For his children, who suffered the loss of their daddy. And for the idea that we can still be, someday, one nation under God.
Is that too much to ask?
Chuck Holton is a veteran Army ranger and NRATV correspondent.