I know that this week brings a well-loved holiday for most Americans full of pride for the nation we call our home. Most of us will attend a celebration of some kind this week- some will be low-key barbeques; others will be full-fledge festivals capped off by a frenzy of fireworks.
While celebrating our Independence Day, it’s all too easy to enjoy the festivities and forget that while we eat our hot dogs, take a swim to beat the heat, and stand under a star-streaked sky with our hand over our heart while our national anthem plays to the eruption of a beautiful fireworks display that somewhere around the world one of our brothers or sisters is having a very different 4th of July.
Somewhere in Afghanistan there are service members standing the line against extremists who seek to do harm to innocent people who want nothing more than a glimpse of the freedoms we take for granted on a daily basis. Remember those so far away from their family and friends while you laugh and enjoy the company of yours.
There are also family members who will spend this holiday alone, the first since losing their loved one in service to this nation- and the family of SGT Dennis Weichel are among them.
Sgt. Dennis Weichel, 29, died in Afghanistan in late March as he saved the life of an Afghan girl who was in the path of a large military vehicle barreling down a road.
Weichel, a Rhode Island National Guardsman, was riding along in a convoy in Laghman Province in eastern Afghanistan when some children were spotted on the road ahead.
The children were picking up shell casings lying on the road. The casings are recycled for money in Afghanistan.
Weichel and other soldiers in the convoy got out of their vehicles to get them out of the way of the heavy trucks in the convoy.
The children were moved out of the way, but an Afghan girl darted back onto the road to pick up some more casings that lay underneath a passing MRAP (Mine Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicle).
The huge armored trucks can weigh as much as 16 tons and are designed to protect the troops they carry from roadside bombs.
Weichel spotted the girl and quickly moved toward her to get her out of the way. He succeeded, but not before he was run over by the heavily armored truck.
The girl was safe, but Weichel later died of his injuries. He had arrived in Afghanistan a few weeks prior and had been a member of the Rhode Island National Guard since 2001.
Lt. Col. Denis Riel, a spokesman for the Rhode Island National Guard, said Weichel embodied values that can’t be taught. “I have heard nothing but incredible stuff about this kid, selfless beyond our core values that we live up to,” Riel said. “As I hear more from family and others, he was the living embodiment of the Army’s core values: courageous, selfless and loyal. All values we expect from our soldiers. We mourn all combat deaths, but this one is a significant loss.”
An Army article quotes two former colleagues praising Weichel’s character.
Staff Sgt. Ronald Corbett, who deployed with Weichel to Iraq in 2005, said, “He would have done it for anybody,” adding, “That was the way he was. He would give you the shirt off his back if you needed it. He was that type of guy.”
First Sgt. Nicky Peppe also served with Weichel in Iraq. “He was a big kid at heart,” Peppe said. “He always had a smile on his face and he made everyone laugh. But as much as Weichel was funny, he was also a professional. When it was time to go outside the wire for a combat patrol, he was all business.”
Since his death, the father of three has been posthumously promoted to sergeant and received the Bronze Star for his heroism.
Monday Morning Perspective
“All the great things are simple, and many can be expressed in a single word: freedom, justice, honor, duty, mercy, hope.” –Winston Churchill
“Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same.” –Ronald Reagan
I can’t help but reflect that the mother of SGT Weichel’s three children will experience a much more significant feeling when she hears the playing of our National Anthem. She will remember him and teach their children about the heroism of their father- the selflessness he embodied and the freedom and life he wanted to share with those less fortunate than himself.
I’m confident that these are three children who will never question that freedom isn’t free. My thoughts go to my three sons who will watch their father go to Afghanistan later this year- and I hope that they will have the same appreciation for our freedoms without ever having to bear the burden of loss that Dennis Wiechel’s children will carry daily.
I know he will be remembered. I know he’s left a legacy.
But as they remember, so should we.
Happy Independence Day- May God continue to bless this country, all who call her home, and those who defend her still.
© Crystal Dyer 2012. All rights reserved.