About the series
To our readers:
The idea for this series originated one afternoon when talking to one of my associates. His father had passed away recently and, being a World War II veteran, had been buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
It turns out he also had won Silver and Bronze stars during his service in Europe. I asked to read the commendation recounting the action that led to his Silver Star and was simply amazed at what this man had done.
It then hit me that these same types of situations were taking place in Iraq and Afghanistan and that we should tell those stories.
So on this Sunday before Veterans Day 2009, the newspapers and Web sites of Stephens Media are privileged and humbled to begin a 54-part series that tells the stories of heroism and bravery by the men and women in the United States Armed Forces.
Their differences are striking by any measure — age, ethnicity, background and experience: the forklift driver from rural Arkansas who doubles as an Army National Guard captain after serving six years in the Air Force; the flight instructor and chief warrant officer from Reno, the Biggest Little City in the World; the Army Reserve private who normally is a salesman in a small town northwest of Houston.
Some are citizen soldiers, who have helped change the misguided image of the Guard and Reserves from the oft-maligned “Weekend Warrior” to a status that properly honors them as critical to our nation’s fighting force. Others have voluntarily chosen the military as a career.
Their dissimilarities, however, end here. All have left the safety of home and family, often more than once, to serve their country with distinction: In the searing heat and blowing sands of Iraq, never knowing if a hidden explosive, suicide bomber or ambush awaits them just a few klicks down the road; in the mountains of Afghanistan, where hidden fortresses and tunnels have existed for decades (if not centuries) in a land that never has been conquered by a foreign force.
Some have seen the horrors in both countries. But all, in their moment of truth, displayed a selfless bravery in combat that most simply cannot comprehend.
Since 2001, more than 1.9 million Americans have served at least one tour of duty in Iraq and/or Afghanistan. War is tragic and frightening. Some 4,500 Americans and thousands of civilians and enemy insurgents have died. And too many U.S. soldiers have come home with life-altering wounds, both physical and psychological.
But at key moments, when faced with life-or-death situations, many responded in extraordinary ways, saving not only their own lives but those of comrades and civilians.
Some of their stories have been told elsewhere. Others have not. We searched for soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines whose stories of valor are representative of those who have served and, in some cases, continue to serve. Many of their stories are recounted in their own words.
Most heroes do not seek the spotlight, and in fact, many contacted by our reporters preferred to stay in the shadows, leaving their stories untold.
We tell these stories now because we must. Sometimes lost in the political rhetoric — and in diminished interest that can come from prolonged military engagements — is the fact that fellow Americans continue to put themselves on the line and perform stunning acts of courage.
We thank them for sharing their stories. And we pledge to continue to detail American sacrifice and bravery until the last soldier comes home.
Truly, they are the heroes among us.
- Warren Stephens