the unknown soldiers

Unknown Soldiers | Remember the brave ones and their families

November 8, 2013 

Many fallen heroes of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars are buried in Section 60 of Arlington National Cemetery.

PHOTO COURTESY OF TOM SILEO

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    THIS WEEK IN THE CIVIL WAR Fighting in Virginia

    Union soldiers crossed over the Rappahannock River on Nov. 7, 1863, at Rappahannock Station and captured hundreds of Confederate fighters in the process.

    As fighting erupted, there were hundreds of casualties near a place called Kelly’s Ford before the Confederates retreated farther south.

    The fighting came about the time Gen. Robert E. Lee’s fighting force was preparing to go into winter quarters near Culpeper, Va.

    The AP reported Nov. 9, 1863, on the fighting: “It will be seen that a severe battle has been fought on the Rappahanoock,” said the dispatch, reporting Confederate fighters had moved in the direction of Culpelper.

    “The number of Confederates taken prisoners is twelve hundred,” said the dispatch, adding, “In the attack on the redoubts on the north side of the river, the Confederates are reported to have suffered severely.”

This weekly column is about the thousands of brave men and women in uniform who selflessly serve and sacrifice.

It’s also about their families, who shoulder an immense burden that few outside the military community can comprehend.

I’ve learned many things while talking to these fine Americans.

One is that every single man and woman who volunteers to defend freedom is brave. Another is that, when a U.S. service member is killed — by hostile fire, accident or suicide — every family member responds differently.

Kelsey Mills has been through more than most young wives could imagine.

On April 10, 2012, her husband, U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Travis Mills, then 25, lost his arms and legs during an enemy improvised explosive attack in Afghanistan.

“I’m happy that my husband is still alive,” Kelsey told The Unknown Soldiers less than a month after the explosion. “He’s still here.”

Every day since, Travis and Kelsey, who are raising a little girl, have inspired us with their dignity and courage. In my mind, it is people like them — not Miley Cyrus — who define what it means to be a true celebrity.

I wish more people agreed.

Bob Bagosy, whom I met through the Travis Manion Foundation, watched in agony as his son, U.S. Marine Sgt. Tommy Bagosy, drifted toward depression and despair because of traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress. At age 25, Tommy, who served in Afghanistan and Iraq, killed himself.

Bob was haunted by the mystery of Tommy’s suicide.

“I know the who, what, where, when and how,” Bob said. “But the ‘why’ has been eluding me.”

Having spent time with Bob, I have seen the fortitude he has displayed while honoring his son’s memory by helping other military families that have been forced to cope with tragedy.

He and his wife are great parents and truly inspirational people.

Emily Feeks has served in the U.S. Navy and deployed to Afghanistan. She also watched her husband, Special Warfare Operator Petty Officer 1st Class Patrick Feeks, deploy to Afghanistan as a Navy SEAL while she was serving in the Philippines.

On Aug. 16, 2012, Patrick, 28, died in a helicopter crash that killed seven Americans.

“You look around and everyone is happy-go-lucky, and you wonder why you can’t have that,” Emily said less than three months after the crash. “Why does it have to happen to you?”

During a June trip to San Diego, I finally met Emily, along with Karlyn Deveau, who lost her fiance, Special Warfare Operator Petty Officer 2nd Class David Warsen, 27, in the same crash.

While tears were shed, both of these young women showed the same tenacity that their loved ones displayed as Navy SEALs. If my daughter grows up to be like Emily and Karlyn, I will be proud.

Thad Forester lost his younger brother, U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Mark Forester, 29, in Afghanistan on Sept. 29, 2010. When we spoke less than three years after Mark died while trying to save his unit’s medic, Thad was in a state of proud reflection.

“We all have missions on this earth and some of them are different for each person,” Thad said. “One of Mark’s was to help defeat terrorism, and he did it.”

On Sept. 23, Thad released a book about Mark called “My Brother in Arms,” which was written with Matthew Glencoe. I hope everyone who reads this column also will take the time to read the story of this remarkable American hero.

Beth Strickland Funk, who courageously spoke with The Unknown Soldiers for a recent column, is not thinking about anything other than caring for her family and making it through the next day.

Her son, U.S. Army Sgt. Joshua “Jay” Strickland, was killed in Afghanistan on Sept. 21.

“We’re all going back and forth between the anger and the grieving,” Beth said 10 days after her son was killed by small-arms fire.

When I go to sleep at night, I think of people like Beth Strickland Funk and everyone else mentioned above. They’ve been through more pain than most of us will in a lifetime.

Our men and women in uniform are incredibly brave. Hopefully, everyone will join me in realizing that their families are, too.

Tom Sileo is a syndicated columnist. His Unknown Soldiers columns are distributed by Creators Syndicate and appear in the Centre Daily Times on Fridays. Readers may follow his posts on Facebook and his blog at www.unknownsoldiersblog.com.

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