ValueSpeak
A Weekly Column
By Joseph Walker

SOMETHING WORTH LOSING EVERYTHING FOR

Hundreds of American flags line the street where Nathan lived for most of his 23 years. Yellow ribbons are tied around mailboxes, trees, street signs and fence posts. Taped to his boyhood home is a hand-lettered sign: “Returning home with honor.”

And he is.

Sometime during the next week or so his family will gather to welcome Nathan home – and to bury him. According to the Department of Defense, he was killed “in Rushdi Mullah, Iraq, of wounds suffered when his unit was attacked by insurgents using small arms fire.” Additional information suggests that he was hit as members of his unit were unloading from the helicopter that had flown them into battle.

And just like that, another promising life is over.

I didn’t really know Nathan, not like I know his Dad and his elder brother Tim. But I knew who he was. He was a good kid – a lively, energetic, happy boy who I saw running around the neighborhood all the time. And “running around” isn’t just a figure of speech in this case. He was always running – literally. The boy seemed to always be in a hurry to get somewhere.

And at age 19, “somewhere” was the military. His family has a long history of military service, and Nathan was anxious to be part of that tradition.

“He just felt like he wanted to do it,” his father said. “He understood it takes a soldier’s sacrifice to ensure peace and freedom.”

Four years later he was serving his first tour of duty in Iraq. Only he was doing it his way: with energy, discipline, courage and compassion. For example, he was always volunteering for assignments and missions because, as he told his Dad, “I don’t like to sit around.” And he often wrote to his family about his love and concern for the children of Iraq. He talked about once being in a situation where he had to spend some time in a basement with three little Iraqi boys.

“He got out his flashlight and made shadow puppets on the wall,” Tim said. “He liked to make them laugh.”

I know – that isn’t exactly consistent with the military bullies that are often portrayed in the media these days. But it is completely consistent with who Nathan actually was. He was a good kid, a great friend, an outstanding son and brother, and his passing leaves a hole in many hearts and lives. And I can’t help but wonder what this terrific young man might have accomplished during the next 40 or so years of his life if only . . .

If only . . .

The harshest reality of war is that young people like Nathan are lost on both sides of the conflict, with each casualty depriving mankind of a full measure of untapped potential. Every lost soldier represents the ultimate sacrifice, and the ultimate anguish for family and friends.

And so we mourn, and we pray for an end to the mourning. But we also celebrate the energy of their commitment to honor, duty and country. Whether or not you agree with our national policy in Iraq, you have to respect people like Nathan who are willing to risk everything for a cause in which they believe.

Near the end of the film “The Wind and the Lion,” a nomadic desert character played by Sean Connery is reminded of the heavy losses his people sustained in a battle to retain their land and their lifestyle. He speaks of it philosophically, as if the toll isn’t really all that burdensome.

“But you’ve lost everything,” a colleague reminds him emphatically. “Everything!”

“But isn’t it wonderful,” Connery’s character asks, “to have something that is worth losing everything for?”

That’s the way Nathan saw it. And that’s the way his friends and family see it as they prepare to lay their hero to rest. Despite the sorrow they feel at his death, there is peace in knowing that he gave his life for something he believed in – something greater than self.

And that is what makes Nathan a hero to me. It’s not the fact that he died, but the fact that he lived as he believed – even at the cost of comfort, convenience and, eventually, his own life. It’s about principle. It’s about integrity.

And it’s about returning home – with honor.

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— © Joseph Walker

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Christmas on Mill Street” - An All New Holiday Novel!

Look What Love Has Done:  Five-Minute Messages to Lift Your Spirit. 

"How Can You Mend a Broken Spleen?  Home Remedies for an Ailing World.