Memorial Day reading: Five stories of American military heroes

Memorial Day reading: Five stories of American military heroes

As a journalist, I’ve reported — often through tears — on too many soldiers who died fighting for their country.

On this Memorial Day, here are five stories (out of many) of American military heroes.

Bobby

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1.

2004 Patriotism, sense of duty bind WWII veteran, Army son killed in Iraq

By Bobby Ross Jr. | The Associated Press

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — Esequiel Perez never bragged about his service in World War II. If anything, the soft-spoken veteran downplayed his role.

“I didn’t go into too much combat or anything,” the 77-year-old says.

Yet his children – Yolanda, Rosa Anna, Sandra, Joel, Debra, Hector and Zeke – grew up knowing that their father had done his part to defend the world, and why.

In the Perez family, soldiers’ sacrifice was honored and the nation’s freedom celebrated. Memorial Day and the Fourth of July were times for reverence. When the children erected a flag pole in the front yard, Esequiel welcomed it – but warned that the stars and stripes must not ever touch the ground and should be lighted if flown at night.

“That’s how proud my dad is of this country,” said Rosa Anna Garza, 48.

He also wanted an easier life for his children than he had – he still has nightmares involving foxholes, and blames grenades for his hearing problems – so he never pushed them to join the military.

For No. 6 child Hector, though, the Army beckoned.

Read the full story.

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2.

2003 Fallen Marine from Tennessee ‘laid down his life for his friend’

By Bobby Ross Jr. | The Associated Press

GALLATIN, Tenn. — Before David Nixon sent his son off to war, he admonished him: “Don’t try to be a hero.”

But when duty required a hero, Marine Cpl. Patrick Nixon became one.

On March 23, in the early days of the war against Iraq, the 21-year-old Tennessean rushed to the aid of a wounded friend and took over his position, the Rev. Michael Blankenship said at Nixon’s funeral Tuesday.

“Shortly afterward, Patrick gave his life,” Blankenship said. “He laid down his life for his friend.”

Nixon, the first Tennessean killed in the war, was remembered as an American patriot who willingly died for freedom.

More than three dozen U.S. flags and a huge assortment of red and white flowers decorated the College Heights Baptist Church where about 350 mourners memorialized Nixon.

As “God Bless America” played, six Marines clad in dress blues and white hats carried Nixon’s flag-draped casket to the front.

“He wasn’t supposed to come home this way,” Nixon’s teary-eyed father told his pastor a few days earlier.

Read the full story.

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3.

2004 — Finally home, MIA laid to rest after four decades

By Bobby Ross Jr. | The Associated Press

SHERMAN, Texas (AP) — After 38 years, Chief Master Sgt. Luther L. Rose’s long road home from the Vietnam War — and his family’s excruciating wait to say goodbye — finally ended Friday.

A special operations C-130 Hercules roared overhead in a flying tribute as an Air Force honor guard placed Rose’s flag-draped coffin at the feet of his elderly mother, Thelma Rose, and daughter, Janise Langford, who was 9 when his AC-47 gunship crashed.

A 21-gun salute rang out and a trumpeter played “Taps” as Rose received a full military burial at Akers Cemetery in Sherman, about 60 miles north of Dallas.

“My grandmother has always held out a certain shred of hope that he would come back,” Langford said afterward. “And I think, with this closure today, we all know that’s not possible.

“I appreciate what we’ve done today,” she added. “We were able to bring him home.”

On June 23, 1966, the 30-year-old Rose was on an AC-47 gunship on a nighttime armed reconnaissance mission over southern Laos when a crew member radioed that the craft was on fire. Witnesses reported it crashed into a wooded area 30 miles northeast of Tchepone, a Laotian town near the Marine fire base at Khe Sanh, Vietnam, the Defense Department said Friday. No parachutes were seen from the plane, which carried a six-member crew, the statement said.

Read the full story.

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4.

• 2006 — ‘It’s a daily surrender to cope with him being gone’

By Bobby Ross Jr. | The Christian Chronicle

Dustin Kendall, son of missionaries Brandi and Penny Kendall, first joined the Army Reserves to help pay for his college education.

But as he matured, he became more committed to the U.S. fight against terrorism and signed up for active duty, his mother said.

“He believed in what he was doing,” Penny Kendall said.

Dustin Kendall, a corporal assigned to the 1st Battalion, 68th Armor Regiment, 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team out of Fort Carson, Colo., died Jan. 15 in Baqubah, Iraq, when his Humvee accidentally struck a tank and rolled over.

The 21-year-old Christian from Conway, Ark., was remembered in a memorial service Jan. 21 at the Summerville Church of Christ in South Carolina. He was buried Jan. 25 at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.

His parents were in Tartu, Estonia, where they serve as missionaries sponsored by the Granbury Church of Christ in Texas, when they learned of their son’s death.

Penny Kendall said she and her husband prayed daily for their son’s physical and spiritual safety after he deployed to the Middle East in late November.

“It was a daily surrender for both my husband and myself,” she said. And now, “It’s a daily surrender to cope with him being gone. When we finally get over the pain, thankfully, we don’t have to worry about him anymore. One of the neat things that was said at the service in Arlington was that he no longer needs faith. Now, he has knowledge, and that’s a very comforting thought.”

Read the full story.

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5.

2005 Women who lost father in Iraq loses husband, too

By Bobby Ross Jr. | The Associated Press

DALLAS — Less than a year ago, Tabitha Bonilla’s father gave his life for his country in Iraq. On Friday, her husband gave his, too.

Army Capt. Orlando A. Bonilla, 27, of Killeen, Texas, was killed in a helicopter accident in Baghdad, just days after the pilot and his wife had talked about his anticipated return home in early March.

“He told me he was going to fly a couple more missions before he came home,” Tabitha Bonilla, 23, said Monday night from her mother’s home in Fayetteville, N.C. “I was going to welcome him home, since I didn’t get to welcome my dad home.”

She described her husband as “just a wonderful, kindhearted, caring, gentle person.”

Her mechanic father, Army Sgt. 1st Class Henry A. Bacon, 45, died last February when he was hit by one vehicle while making repairs on another in Dujayl, Iraq. Bacon, who joined the Army in 1982, had delayed his retirement to serve in the war on terrorism, relatives said.

Bacon’s death delayed his son-in-law’s deployment to Iraq, but only for a few months.

“He treated my dad as though he were his dad,” Keith Bacon, 18, said of his brother-in-law. “He wanted to be here for us, but he said he wanted to do his job. … Even though he was going through a troubling time, he was needing to go over there. You know how a military man is.”

Read the full story.

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And a bonus hero …

2001 Paying tribute to American heroes who never came home — and thanking God for one who did

By Bobby Ross Jr. | The Oklahoman

As a freckle-faced kid, I never thought much about my grandfather’s contributions to World War II.

I just knew his leathery hands and gray hair made him smarter than anybody, including Mom and Dad.

“Papa Ross” knew everything about hammering nails, shooting deer and sticking the worm on the hook just the right way so you caught a boat full of fish.

Grandma might groan when Papa opened his mouth and, for the 15th time in the same afternoon, explained why Ford trucks were best or why he’d never – until Ronald Reagan – vote for a Republican. But I never tired of hearing Papa talk. I still don’t.

It took growing up, though, for me to realize what a true gift from God my Papa is.

I look at my dad, and I look at myself, and I see Papa reflected in so many ways. His faith in God. His love of country. Even his stubbornness.

Read the full column. (We said goodbye to Papa in 2011.)