REMEMBERING ONE SOLDIER, ONE HERO, ONE FLAG
By MARK WOHLANDER
As a young boy, I was blessed to have visited Washington, DC, as part of a school trip. It was a time when it was still safe to conduct tours of the White House, the Capitol, and so many other landmarks which defined the strength of America and its people.
Today, security scanners, armed guards and closed doors have now replaced the freedoms we experienced back then, and even taking a picture outside a building in Washington, DC, is observed with cautious concern by those responsible for the task of preventing the next terrorist attack.
For me, one of the few places left for quiet reflection of the freedoms we enjoy is at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. When I first visited Arlington those many years ago, I did not fully understand the significance of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and those who stood guard at the Tomb, and also over the fields of America's heroes buried beneath the white tombstones which stretch across the acres surrounding the Tomb of the Unknowns.
Although there are thousands of heroes buried at Arlington National Cemetery, a short walk from the Tomb of the Unknown in Section 60 is the final resting place of the hundreds who have died on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan in America's war against terrorism, a war which was brought to our shores on September 11, 2001. One special resting place for me is section 60, site 8330, the final resting place of David Michael Veverka, one of America's quiet heroes.
The reason for sharing David's story is not because David was any braver or any different from the thousands of other heroes who served and died for America's freedom. Instead, David's simple story of his life and his death on the battlefield in Iraq needs to be heard by all of those who have chosen to protest the American flag which stands as a symbol of freedom, freedom which was earned with the blood and sacrifice of thousands of the brave unsung heroes like David.
David grew up in Jamestown, Pennsylvania. After high school, David joined the Army as one of those who felt a responsibility to serve after the events of September 11, 2001. Most likely, David's decision to serve was the result of his father's service in Vietnam and his grandfather's service on the battlefields of World War II
When David enlisted, his goal was to someday serve as a member of the Old Guard which is the oldest active military unit still in service today. Membership in the Old Guard was no simple task. David not only wanted to be a member of the Old Guard, he also wanted the honor and privilege of being a Tomb Guard whose special duty is to prevent any desecration or disrespect directed toward the Tomb.
David realized his dream and served at the Tomb of the Unknown. During his years as a member of the Old Guard, he walked those 21 steps from the east to the west hundreds of times. David never failed in his duty to protect both those buried in the Tomb of the Unknown, but also, those buried in the shadow of the Tomb in the hundreds the white tombstones across the fields of Arlington Cemetery.
David's story could have ended after he completed his active duty tour in the United States Army. However, David, like so many others, felt a deep sense of duty to America and the flag which he so loved. After his active duty tour, David moved to Maine to pursue a degree in Marine Biology at the University of Maine. Although David had already completed a military tour, he felt an obligation to continue to serve. As a result, David joined the Maine Army National Guard.
In January of 2006, at the start of David's final semester at the University of Maine, David's unit was called up for service in Iraq. Once again, David proudly put on the uniform of the country he so loved and set off to battlefields of Iraq.
On the morning of May 6, 2006, David was assigned to provide security to a military convoy which was traveling through Diwaniyah, Iraq. David was in the lead vehicle that morning along with Sergeant Dale James Kelly and Private Chris Fraser.
From those who were there that morning, it was learned that as David's vehicle approached a man standing along the road, David must have sensed that the convoy was going to come under attack from an improvised explosive device. At the very moment the device was activated, David threw himself on Private Fraser. David and Sergeant Kelly died that morning during the attack. Private Fraser lived.
On the morning of May 17, 2006, David's family and friends gathered at Arlington for a final farewell to David. On that morning, I stood near David's final resting place in Section 60, and tearfully watched as David's old unit, his family and friends from the Old Guard, honored David's service. As I listened as David's friends from of the Old Guard presented the 21-gun salute in honor of David's service, I understood that the 21-gun salute was symbolic of the 21 steps David walked hundreds of times at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, just a short walk away from Section 60.
As a final reminder of this simple soldier and hero, I will never forget watching as David's family was presented with an American flag, a flag which for David was a symbol of the freedom he so treasured and the symbol of why he so proudly served.
So, as we remember the events of September 11, 2001, I would invite everyone to think about the sacrifice of David, and the thousands of others who have both served and died to protect our freedom. I would also invite everyone to look upon our flag not as a symbol of oppression, but instead, as a symbol of a caring nation.
If anyone has any doubts about the freedoms which are symbolized by our flag, take a moment to think about David who is just one of hundreds of others buried in Section 60 at Arlington National Cemetery. Take a moment to reflect on all of those who have sacrificed and are buried not only at Arlington but at the other national cemeteries across this great nation.
Finally, in honor of David, and every other hero, take a moment to reflect before you decide to protest against the flag today, or any other day. Take a moment to think how much David, and the others who died as a result of the war which was brought to our shores on September 11, 2001, would have loved to have been standing here today, and tomorrow, and the other tomorrows they will never know, saluting our flag and the freedom for which it stands.