the unknown soldiers

Unknown Soldiers | Daughter keeping father’s memory alive

State College - Centre Daily TimesMarch 28, 2014 

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    THIS WEEK IN THE CIVIL WAR

    Forrest’s Confederate raiders occupy Paducah, Ky.

    Forces of legendary Confederate cavalry leader Nathan Bedford Forrest swept into Paducah, Ky., on March 25, 1864, and briefly occupied the city — forcing a Union garrison of hundreds of troops to relocate to a fort there.

    The Union garrison backed by two gunboats on the nearby Ohio River refused surrender, and shelling of the Confederates by the gunboats ensued.

    Forrest’s raiders destroyed supplies and rounded up horses, generating panic before they withdrew.

    The Associated Press reported on the raid in a detailed dispatch dated March 26, 1864. AP said an estimated force of 5,000 Confederates captured Paducah at 2 p.m. a day earlier, sacking the place and firing weapons.

    AP reported that a Union officer in charge of the garrison occupied the fort below the city with about 800 men.

    “The rebels made four assaults on the fort and were repulsed each time. Three of our gunboats opened on the city during its occupation by the enemy, much of which was burned,” the AP reported.

    About 3,000 civilians had fled the Confederate advance, AP noted, adding that they returned home to considerable damages once the raiders pulled out.

    “Twenty-five houses around the fort were destroyed ... as they were used by the rebel sharpshooters as a screen” during the incursion, AP reported.

Sara Beth Bedgood was only 13 years old on Sept. 11, 2001.

As the Twin Towers collapsed, she felt anguish for the victims and a deep sense of concern for her father, Col. Thomas Felts Sr., who had been serving in the U.S. Army since before she was born.

“I remember thinking that my dad’s going to have to go to war,” Sara Beth said. “He’s going to go fight people.”

To this day, Sara Beth vividly recalls a conversation she had with her dad just as the U.S.-led war on terrorism got underway.

“Yeah, that’s my job ... that’s my duty,” she quoted her father as saying. “That’s what I train to do every single day.”

As the oldest of four children, Sara Beth had the clearest understanding of a soldier’s sacrifices. Ever since she was a little girl, she had been moving around the world with her parents and siblings while observing her father’s shared commitment to family and country.

“Even when he was away, he knew what we were doing in school,” Sara Beth said. “He and my mom talked constantly and he was very much a part of our lives, no matter what.”

Sara Beth recalls going to work with her father one day when she was young.

“I remember another soldier saluting my dad and saying, ‘yes, sir,’ ” she said. “And I remember thinking that my dad was very important.”

Indeed, by the time Col. Felts and his family moved to Fort Leavenworth, Kan., he was a deeply respected military officer who was known for genuinely caring about the soldiers under his command.

“He shared with me how much he admired the men around him,” Sara Beth said.

Although the Felts family had started preparing for a combat deployment on 9/11, it took almost five years for the colonel to deploy overseas. For such a dedicated leader, watching younger troops go to Iraq and Afghanistan while he stayed on the homefront “really tore him up inside,” according to the soldier’s oldest child.

“These men had been away from their families so many times, and he wanted to share that load,” Sara Beth said.

As Sara Beth finished her senior year of high school and prepared to leave for college, her dad deployed to Iraq in the winter of 2006.

“The father of a friend of mine was supposed to go, and my dad actually volunteered in his place,” she said, adding that her friend’s father had already served multiple tours.

In November 2006, a group of Sara Beth’s relatives unexpectedly showed up at her dorm room. She will never forget the moment her uncle delivered the most shocking news any teenager can experience.

“God has decided to take your dad home,” Sara Beth’s uncle said.

On Nov. 14, 2006, Col. Thomas Felts Sr., 45, and Spc. Justin Garcia, 26, were killed by an improvised explosive device that blew up near their vehicle in Baghdad, according to the Pentagon.

Suddenly, Sara Beth, who was attending Campbell University in Buies Creek, N.C., was heading back to Kansas for her father’s funeral.

“It was very surreal,” she said. “I remember clearly thinking I was in a dream.”

Her dad’s memorial service was attended by military leaders including Gen. David Petraeus, as well as countless relatives, friends, supporters and even a stranger who brought her little boy.

“I needed to show my son what a hero looks like,” the supporter told the Felts family.

Col. Thomas Felts Sr. is remembered for his faith in God and the people around him, including his wife, four children, fellow soldiers, and even the Iraqi troops and civilians with whom he shared a close bond.

Sara Beth, 26, is now married and lives near Raleigh, N.C. Her husband is a soldier, and the couple have already endured one overseas deployment.

Though Sara Beth Bedgood will always miss her father, his spirit lives on in her heart.

“My family and I love talking about my dad and sharing his memories,” she said. “We really try to keep him alive in that way. We know we’re going to see him again.”

 

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.unknown soldiersblog.com.

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