We Remember:: Thank You for Your Sacrifice
On Saturday morning, May 28, 2016, with tears streaming down his face and sobs wracking his body, my husband shouted the name of Captain James D. Nehl at the top of his lungs. Surrounded by around 40 other men and women who had just completed an over 20 mile “ruck”, each of them, in turn, shouted the name and rank of a fallen soldier whom they, too, were remembering. These folks, many of whom were civilians, several of whom were active duty military or law enforcement personnel, had just endured over 13 hours of hiking through the dark night up to the summit of Mount Tamalpais in Marin County, California. Led by a cadre including a former Green Beret and recently retired Marine Force Recon, each individual in the group had chosen to spend the first night of Memorial Day weekend putting themselves through an extreme physical challenge in honor of a fallen warrior of their choosing.
By the time they finished the grueling ruck, many of the participants were moved in such a way that they could do nothing but cry. They cried in remembrance of their friends. They cried in gratitude for those who put other people’s lives above their own, for those who gave the ultimate sacrifice – their very life – on the battlefield. Some of the soldiers honored that night had served long ago in World War II, Vietnam, and the Korean Conflict. Many of the honored warriors passed away just a few years ago on the fields of Iraq and Afghanistan. One honored man gave his life on the streets of Oakland in the line of duty as a police officer last summer. And, sobering in whole different way, some of these brave soldiers had even taken their own lives long after the dust of the battles had settled.
Considering all these warriors had gone through, and how each of their lives had been spent in service to others, those present couldn’t help but be moved to tears.
My husband honored Captain James D. Nehl, an Army Ranger assigned to 2nd Battalion, 16th Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division. Although we never had the opportunity to meet James personally, we have heard all about him through a mutual friend of ours who served alongside James and was his close friend for many years in the Rangers.
We never met James, yet we remember him this weekend.
According to our friend, James was a man of impeccable athleticism and integrity. He was a hard worker who lived by the Ranger Creed. He was tactically sound, physically fit, and a constant professional. One of James’ favorite activities when he and our friend led their squad of Rangers, was to go “rucking.” For those of you unfamiliar with this term, to “ruck” is simply to put weight on your back and go for a walk or run. Every week the Rangers, under James’ leadership, would head out on a 10 mile ruck run together. It was impermissible to “fall out” (quit) during one of these runs. Yet, even so, James took pride in the fact he and our friend frequently pushed the guys in their group so hard that some had to fall out on a frequent basis. In fact, James felt like he had failed if they got to the end of one of those endurance rucks and no one fell out that day.
James was an all-around bona fide good man who was looked up to by both his peers and subordinates.
By 2012, James was serving in Operation Enduring Freedom, the joint American, British and Afghan military campaign in Afghanistan. On November 9, 2012, while patrolling during combat operations in Ghazni Province, Afghanistan, James was killed by small arms fire. He was 37 years old and left his wife and new son aching, yet undoubtedly proud of his courage and service, after his departure.
Today I remember, and I beg you to remember, James D. Nehl. I am filled with gratitude for his life and for his service to our country.
Today I stand humbled and indescribably appreciative that there are men and women who are so courageous that when they hear gunfire they run to it instead of away from it. I am grateful that there are wives and husbands and children and brothers and sisters and parents and friends who hug their loved ones goodbye as they send them away for yet another deployment, never knowing whether or not their loved one will return with breath in his or her lungs. I am grateful that today, because of people like James, I have the freedom to live this beautiful, messy life I have.
I realize Memorial Day was a few days ago, so this post is going up a tad belated, yet still: today, as you move through your own beautiful, messy life, as you go to work or drop your kids off at school or stop off at the gym or get together with friends and family and enjoy each other’s company, I pray that you, too, will stop for at least a moment and simply REMEMBER. Remember that our freedoms did not come without the sacrifice of many. Remember that while we enjoy the freedom to worship however we choose, the freedom to speak whatever we want, the freedom to spend our time and spend our lives in whichever way we please – let us remember that this freedom came at the high cost someone’s husband, someone’s father, someone’s dear friend.
Captain James D. Nehl, I thank you today. Thank you for helping make it possible for me to spend Memorial Day hiking in the beautiful hills nearby, and jumping on the trampoline with my kids, and swimming with friends, and playing games and laughing and eating delicious food with my loved ones. Thank you for your courage and for putting yourself in harm’s way in order to protect my family and your family and all the other good-hearted, loving families here in the United States.
And, Lord, I ask you to comfort James’ loved ones right now as they remember and mourn their loss again.
And for all the other loved ones left behind, remembering their fallen friend, father, mother, husband, wife, brother or sister— please bring them Your comfort and Your peace that passes understanding. Please speak to them in a special way this week and let them know that You are with them. Even in this, You are with them and You love them and You love their loved one. Please help the spouses who have been left behind to raise up the next generation. Give them the strength and courage and wisdom they need for that daunting and unspeakably important task.
And for those serving right now, God: be with them, as I know You always are. Strengthen them when they feel weak. Comfort them when they are lonely or scared. May they know beyond a shadow of any doubt that You truly are with them and that You love them and that You have wonderful plans for their lives. Amen.
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And now, in honor of James and the belief system he lived by, I want to include the words to the Ranger Creed:
Recognizing that I volunteered as a Ranger, fully knowing the hazards of my chosen profession, I will always endeavor to uphold the prestige, honor, and high esprit de corps of my Ranger Regiment.
Acknowledging the fact that a Ranger is a more elite soldier who arrives at the cutting edge of battle by land, sea, or air, I accept the fact that as a Ranger my country expects me to move farther, faster and fight harder than any other soldier.
Never shall I fail my comrades. I will always keep myself mentally alert, physically strong and morally straight and I will shoulder more than my share of the task whatever it may be, one-hundred-percent and then some.
Gallantly will I show the world that I am a specially selected and well-trained soldier. My courtesy to superior officers, neatness of dress and care of equipment shall set the example for others to follow.
Energetically will I meet the enemies of my country. I shall defeat them on the field of battle for I am better trained and will fight with all my might. Surrender is not a Ranger word. I will never leave a fallen comrade to fall into the hands of the enemy and under no circumstances will I ever embarrass my country.
Readily will I display the intestinal fortitude required to fight on to the Ranger objective and complete the mission though I be the lone survivor.
Rangers Lead The Way!
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What about you?
Is there a particular warrior you remembered this past Memorial Day weekend? Please feel free to share his or her story in the comment section below.