Capitol Comment: Honoring the Memory and Sacrifice of Our Fallen Heroes

By U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison | May 21, 2009

The fabric of Texas' rich history is woven with legendary stories of sacrifice and remarkable acts of valor.

From the battle of the Alamo, when Col. William Barret Travis and his men stood their ground, declaring "no retreat, no surrender" and sacrificed all for the freedom of their nation � to the young men and women who are laying down their lives on foreign battlefields today � generation after generation, our state's men and women have exhibited the indomitable Texas spirit of service and patriotism.

Stretching back to the American Indian Wars, 70 Texans have been awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for their heroic service. And many of them died earning that distinction.

During World War II, a young B-24 pilot from Fort Worth named Horace Carswell was flying a single-craft mission to take out a convoy of Japanese ships in the South China Sea.

After scoring direct hits on the target, Maj. Carswell's aircraft was badly damaged. Through skillful flying, he kept the staggering bomber in the air long enough to make it to land so his crew could safely parachute onto the Chinese shore.

Maj. Carswell and his copilot were killed in the crash landing, but through his courageous actions, the rest of his crew survived. He was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor, and Carswell Air Force Base outside of Fort Worth was named in his honor.

Another Texan who made an indelible mark on our nation's history is Master Sgt. Roy Benavidez, a daring and fearless soldier in Vietnam from Cuero.

Sgt. Benavidez and his soldiers were ambushed on a secret mission in Cambodia, and despite suffering a broken jaw, sustaining 37 bullet wounds, and being stabbed with a bayonet, he exposed himself repeatedly to enemy fire and carried gravely wounded soldiers in his arms to safety.

He was so badly maimed that his commander nominated him for a Distinguished Service Cross award because the Army was afraid he wouldn't survive long enough for the extensive Medal of Honor process to be completed. But he did survive, and was subsequently awarded the Medal of Honor.

Sgt. Benavidez made service to his country his life's work. A bust of Sgt. Benavidez is on display at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, where it serves as a tribute to his life and an inspiration to future leaders.

Preserving these legacies is critical, because, as President Ronald Reagan once said, "Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn't pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children's children what it was once like in the United States where men were free."

Today, a new generation of patriots is serving in Afghanistan and Iraq. Like many before them, some are paying for our freedom with their lives.

In the early days of the war in Iraq, a 23-year-old Texan named James Kiehl was killed when his convoy was ambushed near al Nasiriya. His remains were brought home to Comfort, Texas, and on the day of his funeral something remarkable happened.

Hundreds of men, women, and children from across the community lined the streets to honor their hometown hero and show support for his family as the funeral procession wound its way through the small town. He was one of the first Texans to lay down his life in combat. To date, more than 400 Texans have died in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Many of today's military heroes have not yet made it into the pages of history. But they are already solidifying a legacy of valorous service.

Unlike many of the wars that were fought in previous generations, none of the men and women serving in Iraq and Afghanistan were drafted into service. Every single one of today's soldiers stood and volunteered to go.

If you ask one of our troops or the family of one of our fallen heroes why they volunteered, their responses are almost always rooted in patriotism and the desire to be a part of something greater than themselves.

Every day, I think of those Texans who have made the ultimate sacrifice. I think about the loved ones who miss them.

It is fitting for our nation to pause and remember them on Memorial Day.

But to truly honor their service, we must always cherish liberty, work to keep America free and strong, espouse the values for which our troops have fought and died, and pass down their memory to future generations.

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