This year when I watch the fireworks on the 4th of July, my thoughts will be with the 623rd and other National Guard units like them.
I’ll be thinking of them because, while my family and I are reclining on lawn chairs out in the front yard, swatting mosquitoes, listening to patriotic music, and eating watermelon, American men and women will be in Iraq putting their patriotism on the line. Hopefully, they’ll be able to be home celebrating Independence Day with their families by next year.
Sadly, for some there will be no more family celebrations.
One of those is Spc. Eric L. Toth. Eric was from my hometown, graduated from Metcalfe County High School the same year as my daughter, and married his high-school sweetheart. Only 21 years old on March 30 of this year, he was riding in an armored Humvee along with two other Kentucky Guard personnel when a roadside bomb exploded. Eric was killed instantly, and the two other members were injured and airlifted to a hospital in Germany. One of those young men was Sgt. Ricky Brooks, also of Edmonton and a former student of mine. Ricky and Eric were brothers-in-law.
We see so much violence in the newspaper, on television, and in the movies that we become numb to it. It seems surreal, like it’s not really happening. Now, every time I pick up the paper or turn on the evening news and hear about another bombing, I think about how I felt when I learned about Eric and Ricky. They made the war in Iraq real for me. They put a face on a recurring tragedy that’s being replayed all across America every time another soldier is lost.
There are more than 1,200 Kentucky Guard soldiers now deployed in Iraq, the largest number since the war began more than two years ago. I hope each one of them knows how much we appreciate them and pray that they return home safely to their families.
The 4th of July is the day we officially celebrate the birth of our nation and our independence. It is also a day to remember Eric and Ricky, and other men and women like them who place themselves in harm’s way so that we can enjoy something not everyone can.