Open Letter to Matthew Uhrin
On January 3rd 2007 my small team of Iraqi military advisors saw the MEDEVAC helicopters overhead. We found a high spot and stopped our gun trucks. 20 minutes earlier we were pulling our friends into vehicles under sniper fire.
The birds touched down. William Beaver had been shot in the face but took it like a champ. He was a rock star that day and would receive a Silver Star. He ran to the helicopter and jumped onboard. Our Iraqi counterparts loaded Andrew Olmsted. The interpreter thought he heard them say he felt cold. They were right. There was no doubt we had lost Tom Casey so he came back with us.
When we got back to the firebase we had an ad hoc ceremony with our teammates to pin a Purple Heart and Bronze Star on Tom’s chest. We put him in a body bag and closed it up. We then covered it with an American Flag.
We had a ceremony at the airfield and all available personnel quietly stood in formation. The helicopters touched down and shut off their engines. The silence was serene. After a 21 gun salute and taps I escorted Tom onto the bird and sat next to him on the flight through the desert night.
I’d seen flag draped coffins at funerals. I remember burying my grandfather when I was young. It hadn’t been long since I watched mothers of my West Point classmates receive folded America Flags. However, It was a little different seeing that flag with Tom’s profile just hours after he jumped into fire to help a fallen teammate. In the ambient glow that flag looked like divine light.
Less than a week after I came home I was at an auction house in Virginia. There were boxes of scattered junk from an estate. Amid old electronics, tupperware and loose garage items I saw a dusty flag unraveling from its triangle shape. I pulled it out and brought it to the young clerk. She looked at me like it was none of my business how they displayed merchandise when I asked her not to treat it like an old pair of shoes. She had grown up in one of the generations since Viet Nam that never had to worry about the draft. They take their freedom for granted. They keep war and the sacrifices of our troops out of their mind. She didn’t see the flag the way I did.
But you do, Matthew.
God Bless You!