26 May 2008

Memorial Day - FOX News 6 p.m. airs our Ramadi Memorial Service

I am honored to announce that tonight at 6:00 p.m., FOX News will broadcast the story of my and John Wroblewski's visit to Ar Ramadi, Iraq on 6 Mar 2008 to perform a memorial service for John's son, USMC 2nd Lt. J.T. Wroblewski and the eleven other men who were KIA at that spot on 6 Apr 2004. This national broadcast is the culmination of 15 months of my efforts to assist John in visiting the site to honor these men who bravely laid down their lives in the performance of their duties.

This historic first visit by a Gold Star parent to the exact site in Iraq where their son or daughter was killed was our way to symbolically honor not only J.T. and the fallen of the 2-4 Marines, but all the service members that have selflessly made the ultimate sacrifice in service to our country. I am especially thankful to Fox News for airing this story on Memorial Day to honor these heroes.

Our 16 day embed was the culmination of a 15 month odyssey that began with an embed organized and led by radio personality Martha Zoller (The Martha Zoller Show; WDUN 550AM; www.marthazoller.com) in January 2007. Martha had met John Wroblewski in 2005 during a trip to Crawford, TX at a counter-protest to Cindy Sheehan's anti-war demonstration. Martha came up with the idea to get John to the exact site in Ramadi where J.T. and eleven others were KIA on 6 Apr 2004.

Martha asked me to accompany her on the January 2007 embed to document the trip. Along with LTC Robert Quinn, Martha, John, and I departed Atlanta on 12 January 2007. Unfortunately, due to the tenuous security situation in Ramadi at that time, as well as the increased demands on DOD resources because of the incoming troop surge, we were unable to make it to Ramadi. During this trip, I got to know John Wroblewski, and through him, his son J.T. I was touched by the dedication of John to his son, and to the other fallen heroes and their families. On 19 Jan, during the flight back to Atlanta, I made a promise to John that if I ever got another chance to return to Iraq, I would bring him with me and get him to Ramadi so we could complete the important story that Martha Zoller envisioned - honoring J.T. and the other 11 men.

On 16 January 2008, after a year of planning and fundraising, my embed request in Ramadi was approved for John and I to return. We departed Atlanta on 27 February, and arrived in Baghdad's International Zone four long days later on 1 March. I spent these four days conducting interviews with the soldiers, Marines, and Airmen we encountered in our journey. After our arrival at CPIC, I immediately went to work on another story I was writing about the religious genocide of Iraq's native Christian population, conducting an interview with the Anglican Church's representative, Canon Andrew White to document the plight of Iraq's Christians. The next day, John and I boarded a CH-47 for our flight into Fallujah.

With help from my PAO, USMC Msgt. Ellerbrock, and a personal escort by USMC Major General Kelly and PSD Company of the 2-8 Marines, we arrived at the site in east Ramadi on 6 Mar 2008, three years and eleven months to the day after the ambush took place. In a solemn ceremony in that narrow alley lined by cinder block walls, John Wroblewski read the names of the twelve fallen men. "LCPL Benjamin Carman, LCPL Marcus Cherry, PFC Christopher Cobb, LCPL Kyle Crowley, PFC Deryk Hallal, PFC Ryan Jerabek, PFC Moises Langhorst, LCPL Travis Layfield, HM3 Fernandez Mendez, LCPL Anthony Roberts, SSGT Allan Waker, and my hero, 2nd Lt John Thomas Wroblewski."

John then asked for a moment of silence to honor these unforgotten heroes. We bowed our heads together, and I offered a prayer for John and his family, the fallen men and their families who had given everything to our country, and for the continued safety of the Marines that surrounded us. Afterward, John asked the Marines to offer a loud "Hoorah!" in honor of the memory of these men. Their emotional cheer rang throughout the alley, echoing off the walls of the houses behind the cinder block walls, finally fading away into the palm groves that surrounded us. In a voice cracking with emotion, John thanked Major General Kelly and our Marine escorts for their assistance in fulfilling his dream of visiting this now hallowed spot. Some of the Marines visibly struggled to control their own emotions, yet never relaxed their vigilance in their goal to provide security for the ceremony.

I truly felt J.T.'s presence there with us that day, especially when I observed the following - As John knelt to collect a handful of soil to bring home with him, the red T-shirt with J.T.'s name that John had hung on the wall above him "flew" off the wall, landing at John's feet. This incredible "coincidence" is even more amazing in light of the fact that I felt no gust of wind at that moment! I have posted a photograph of the shirt as it "flew" over John, and another as it landed at his feet to show you what I saw. Someone once told me that "coincidence" is God's way of saying, "Hello!" Was J.T. there with us that day? I prefer to believe that he was, and I know he was proud of his father for coming all this way to honor him.

Please remember to honor all the veterans on this very special Memorial Day. Never forget that their hard work and blood have paid for the liberty and freedoms we all enjoy here in the United States of America.

For a complete selection of images from this memorial service in Ramadi, please visit my 7 March 2008 post.

No comments: