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Tom Sileo's op-ed column on The Unknown Soldiers: The Hardest Choice
Many heroes of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
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Today, those words are engraved on Megan's headstone at Arlington National Cemetery. She was killed alongside two U.S. Army soldiers on Dec. 6, 2006, while escorting a team of Newsweek journalists through Ramadi's dangerous streets.
Megan's parents are not bitter about losing their intelligent, driven 34-year-old daughter. That's because the fallen Marine's mom and dad know Megan wouldn't be bitter about the conclusion of her extraordinary life.
"It was a sacrifice she was willing to make," her mom said. "Nothing about Megan's life was tragic."
In the past year, I have gotten to know the wife and sister, respectively, of Navy Lt. Brendan Looney and Marine 1st Lt. Travis Manion. Like Nick and Megan, Brendan and Travis could have done anything they wanted with their lives, yet chose to serve.
Every day, Amy Looney and Ryan Manion wish their loved ones had come home. Yet they repeatedly convey their pride that Brendan and Travis, who were Naval Academy roommates on 9/11, opted to risk their lives. Today, both Amy and Ryan dedicate theirs to helping members of the military community.
Engraved on 1st Lt. Manion's headstone, which is next to Brendan's and just steps from Megan's, is a powerful quote: "If not me, then who?" Travis, 26, uttered these words before trading--for a second time--a comfortable life in Pennsylvania for the brutal urban warfare of Fallujah.
Lieutenant Looney nearly quit Navy SEAL training after his friend was killed in Iraq. Instead, driven by the "if not me, then who?" calling, he graduated as "Honor Man" of his BUD/S class. Brendan, 29, served in both Iraq and Afghanistan before being killed in a Sept. 21, 2010, helicopter crash with eight fellow Americans.
Had Megan, Brendan, or Travis survived their final deployments,
First Lt. Nick Vogt will undoubtedly succeed in whatever trail he someday blazes with prosthetic legs. In doing so, the wounded warrior, and thousands more like him, will cast an ugly stereotype to the ash heap of history.
Our courageous troops and veterans are not victims. They are leaders.
Tom Sileo is a columnist