My Memorial Day
This man was killed in the Shpee Valley, Kapisa Province, Afghanistan, on August 7th 2009. I was on the mission where he was killed. I didn’t know him.
I saw him during a rehearsal before an attack. The next time I saw him, the following morning, he was dead. Two other soldiers and I were almost shot recovering his body.
His name was Matthew Freeman. He was a Marine Corps Captain, a Naval Academy graduate and C-130 pilot who was doing his time on the ground as a forward observer. He had only been in Afghanistan 18 days when he was killed, and was married less than a month earlier.
He advanced into a known Taliban stronghold with a Georgia National Guard Embedded Training Team and a handful of Afghan soldiers. They knew they were going to be ambushed. The first bursts of enemy fire killed three Afghan soldiers and wounded another. Captain Freeman and several other troops rushed to a compound, an Afghan home, and cleared it. Captain Freeman and a Georgia medic climbed onto the roof of the compound so Freeman could direct fire support onto enemy positions. As he was engaging with his carbine and calling for support, Captain Freeman was shot and killed. The medic beside him was almost hit, and as he scrambled off the roof another Georgia soldier was shot trying to help him.
I rolled into the valley with the quick reaction force. As we headed toward the fight I heard on the radio that an American had been killed. When we reached Captain Freeman his finger was still on the trigger, weapon off safe, magazine almost empty. As World War II Marine Robert Leckie wrote about his fallen comrades, “He died with his face to the enemy. May he rest in peace.”
In the end, we were ordered to recover our casualties and retreat from the valley.
Even though I didn’t know Captain Freeman, his death affected me more than any other experience I had at war. A few days after the fight, alone in a dark room, I cried over the tragedy of his promising young life lost, the frustrating conclusion of the battle, and the angry feeling that he had died for no good cause, in a valley nobody would ever hear of, for people who didn’t want us there.
It took me years to realize that he didn’t die for those people. He died for his people, both those beside him and those back home. His brave death wasn’t for Afghanistan, it was for America. And whatever the end result of our effort that day, one objective truth remains: Captain Freeman believed in himself, his comrades and his country so strongly, he willingly risked, and lost, his life in defense of our values.
In 25 years in the military, I’ve done many things. But nothing else I’ve done was as important as the small role I played in bringing Captain Freeman home.
Today isn’t my day. I lived. Today isn’t every surviving veteran’s day. They lived too.
Today belongs to Captain Matthew Freeman. Happy Memorial Day.
Chris Hernandez is a 22 year police officer, former Marine and recently retired National Guard soldier with over 25 years of military service. He is a combat veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan and also served 18 months as a United Nations police officer in Kosovo. He writes for BreachBangClear.com and Iron Mike magazine and has published three military fiction novels, Proof of Our Resolve, Line in the Valley and Safe From the War through Tactical16 Publishing. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on his Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/ProofofOurResolve).
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Tags: memorial day, veteran writers, war on terror