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For Those Who Fight For Freedom

Patrick Nelson, May 29, 2017

For Those Who Fight For Freedom

Memorial Day is often celebrated in America as the unofficial start to summer, a three-day weekend complete with BBQ’s and plenty of relaxation time. Like many, I enjoy my time off – but I also find a way and time to reflect on the meaning of the holiday. As an Army Veteran, I don’t have to think too hard about service and sacrifice. I only need to think of Emmanuel Hernandez.

Emmanuel arrived to my unit in Italy fresh out of basic training and airborne school. He was eager and confident – in the Army, we often referred to this as a “dangerous combination,” especially for anyone who lacked the experience to back it up. However, getting to know him, I was impressed. His tactical and technical knowledge quickly set him apart from his peers.

Emmanuel was also a great friend. My favorite memory is when he came to pick me up at the airport in Venice after I returned from leave back home in the States. Emmanuel pulled up to the baggage claim area and all I could see was the white of his eyes as he had on a full ski mask, heavy coat, and gloves. The night prior, someone had broken into his car and smashed out both windows. He could have easily asked someone else to come get me or just sent me a message telling me what happened and I would have understood. Instead, he bundled up and took the 45-minute drive down the Autostrada in Italy, in 30 degree weather, to make sure I was taken care of.

That was Emmanuel – caring, considerate, and kind. He was married, and he always talked about how meaningful service was to him and how blessed he and his wife were to be a part of a great family. His commitment to service was evident in all he did and he stood ready, knowing that the price of freedom is not free.

The morning of June 8th, 2005 started off as most days did in Afghanistan. We were located at a small, isolated forward operating base near the Pakistani border. As the sun crested the mountains in Pakistan, we grabbed a quick bite to eat and prepared for the day’s missions. A few hours later, two soldiers, Emmanuel and Michael Kelly, would be killed in action and eight of us were wounded when insurgents attacked our helicopter landing zone with 107mm rockets. I was medically evacuated for my wounds. When I heard that Emmanuel was killed, I fell to my knees. It was a tragedy – our country lost an amazing patriot.

For generations, American sons and daughters have selflessly answered the call of duty. Ready to serve and sacrifice in the name of freedom. The wars may be fought on distant lands half-way around the world, but the void left by these heroes is irreplaceable. For many, when you hear the names of the fallen, it may seem impersonal. In reading about Emmanuel, I hope your Memorial Day will take on new meaning.

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