May 26th, 2008
12:00 PM ET

Feedback from the Frontlines: 'When Memorial Day became significant'

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2008/images/05/25/vert.keith.heidtman.jpg caption="1LT Keith Heidtman" width=292 height=320]

1LT Rose MacHarg
566 Medical Company (AS) Executive Officer
Serving in Iraq at Camp Liberty, near Baghdad

Memorial Day was never too significant to me until my unit began its train-up to go to Iraq. Sure, I had family members who had fought in past conflicts and had taken my share of history courses in school. Even though I had completed 4 years of Army ROTC and 2 years of active duty, I never quite grasped the significance of it until the days after Memorial Day of 2007.

It was May 30 2007 and I was running weekend errands. On a whim, I stopped to get a quick haircut. As I was waiting, I happened to glance at the TV and CNN was on. I watched the featured story for a few minutes, lost interest and started to look away. All of a sudden the screen segued to faces of Soldiers with a caption of “Fallen Soldiers.”

The first face was a shock to me.

It was 1LT Keith Heidtman. Keith had been in my squad during a 5-week training camp for ROTC cadets at Ft. Lewis, WA in 2004. I recognized him immediately. The caption said that his helicopter was shot down by enemy fire over Baghdad on 28 May, 2007—Memorial Day. His co-pilot was killed was well. Ground teams were sent to the scene and those 6 Soldiers were killed by IEDs in their attempt to rescue them.

I felt the terrible feeling of realization that the fun and games of college and ROTC were over. The light-heartedness we had at Ft. Lewis during those 5 weeks of training left no indication for what really lay in store for him. I remember his determination to become a pilot, and his quiet yet self-assured ways and his willingness to help me and others in the squad when we needed it.

In the Army, there are so many training events where you quickly bond with people during a very short, yet intense period of time, then need to part ways almost as fast as training began. Everyone says how the Army is a small place, so it’s always a great surprise to see old friends and battle buddies at duty stations or overseas. It deeply saddened me that that was the way in which I saw Keith again.

After that, the reality of what we were doing became much more tangible. The fact that he lost his life on Memorial Day has given me an entirely new appreciation for the sacrifices so many people have made, and how each life affects so many others. On 26 May, 2008, I will be remembering Keith and all the other Soldiers from past and present conflicts who have accepted the immense risk of serving, realizing the great cost that could come, but who do it anyway.

Read more about 1LT Keith Heidtman here...

Remembering our troops... and
how you can help...

soundoff (19 Responses)
  1. Noreen

    Rose, great piece. Thank you for not only writing it, but the time put into your ROTC training and your continuing commitment in Iraq on behalf of your grateful country members. Thank you to you and to all your fellow service members.

    May 27, 2008 at 10:00 pm |
  2. Rob O.

    Rose – I don't know what to say. We are all so proud of you. It's hard to believe the little girl who use to drive a garden tractor around the circle is now demonstrating exceptional leadership and poise under very difficult situations.

    You are truly one of a kind.

    My best always.

    – Rob

    May 27, 2008 at 9:46 am |
  3. Albert G. Eastmond Jr.

    To CNN and Anerson Cooper,

    Thank you for this blog to show our unwavering support to our
    servicemen and women.

    You should keep this open until we can bring them all home safe and sound.

    May 26, 2008 at 11:22 pm |
  4. Albert G. Eastmond Jr.

    To all who serve, and those who answered the call in the past.
    Keep you head up high and stand proud. It takes the brave men and women beside you today to stand up to tyrancy and protect the freedom that is deservered by all, both in the U.S. and abrod.

    We here in this house wish you the best and hopefully a safe trip back home.

    For your sacrifices I salute you today tommorow and alway's.

    May 26, 2008 at 11:18 pm |
  5. Laura

    Thank you to all of the troops on this Memorial Day. You are all heroes in my book!!

    May 26, 2008 at 11:17 pm |
  6. Roy B

    I give thanks for the young men and women making the tremendous sacrifices to serve in the Armed Forces in these troubled times. You are special.

    As a vet that served seven years, I am very troubled that there is even a debate as to increasing the benefits to the current vets to include a free college education at their state university. This is a vote that should be unanamously passed along with ensuring that the severely wounded get the care that they need without the red tape. After all they have done, they should not be forced to grovel to get the care they need.

    For the families of those that have made the ultimate sacrifice, please know that my thoughts and prayers are with you.

    May 26, 2008 at 9:50 pm |
  7. Annie Kate

    From the Revolutionary War to the war in Iraq today I appreciate the sacrifices given to preserve liberty and freedom of all the soldiers and civilians involved in each conflict. Their hardships and sacrifices have preserved our freedom – its a gift that no one can surpass.
    Annie Kate
    Birmingham AL

    May 26, 2008 at 7:40 pm |
  8. CaseyJPS - California

    I am extremely grateful to those who continue to fight and to those who have fought to protect our ideals, dreams, and hopes.

    May 26, 2008 at 6:10 pm |
  9. T.Woods

    I want to thank the men and women that serve willingly in our armed forces. It is because of thier sacrifice that others (in our country) have the freedoms they do, which include free speech – (however unpopular) – it may be. But mostly, I am proud that they are helping to institute for the first time freedoms overseas that are now being given to the women and children – like education, being treated like they have worth, and the ability to vote for themselves. You hear little of these things in the news. Thank – you and your families so much for what you do here and there.

    May 26, 2008 at 4:14 pm |
  10. Kristen Shealy

    Thank you to all the men and women who have served, and are currently serving our country. You are owed a debt of gratitude for the sacrifices you have made in order to preserve our freedoms.

    From a civilian who respects and appreciates all you have done for us.

    May 26, 2008 at 4:14 pm |
  11. Terry

    Memorial day always held a special meaning for me, my Dad served in the Army for twenty four years, and he was proud of it . The day he died so many years ago, I as one of his five children was given the flag that graced his coffin, my Mom told me he wanted me to have it.. My husband and I flew that flag each and every Memorial day in honor of him and his dedicated service to the armed services. My son enlisted in the army at the young age of 19, shortly after 911, he spent a year and a half in Iraq. We flew the flag and the service flag out of respect for this great country, He's home now, and for good or bad he's not the same young man who left for boot camp that day, but his Grandpa would be so proud. Memorial day sure took on a different meaning for those four years he spent in the army, but my point is that every day is different when you have a loved one over there fighing for this country. We as a people need to support our young men and women every day, holiday or not, remember their sacrifice, and thank and support them in any way you can.

    May 26, 2008 at 4:09 pm |
  12. SGM K (RET)

    The purpose of this blog is simple. Never forget the fallen or those serving – period!

    May 26, 2008 at 3:47 pm |
  13. SGM K (RET)

    GOD BLESS the Warriors and the families left behind.

    May 26, 2008 at 3:23 pm |
  14. Tom Rogers - Long Island, NY

    War is never "real" until we're in it, or when someone we care about dies because of it.

    Long ago, I spent a year in 'Nam, and then went back for another 6 months, by choice. (Additional background: during my enlistment in the Army, I was promoted to Staff Sergeant in less than 3 years, and received an honorable discharge after that period.) Far too many Allied lives were lost there, and a great many were badly wounded–needlessly, as it turned out.

    We're currently in a very similar situation. For the first time in history, our nation has invaded countries without provocation. We're still there, and presidential hopeful MCCAIN is on record saying, "If it takes 100 years, we'll stay. Frightening.

    The return of the Draft–probably soon, is inevitable. I believe that President BUSH refuses to be the one to reinstate it because he's done so much else to ruin America –both domestically, and abroad. When conscription does return, it will legally have to include women–especially since they've proven themselves in combat. This is guaranteed to happen if we continue to waste lives, limbs and an incredible amount of money in a land where our leaders have allowed their leaders to make billions by selling their oil.

    I'm not opposed to helping other countries, but the present situation must not be allowed to continue! Because of our involvement in Iraq, our National Debt is gigantic (when BUSH took office, there was a surplus!), over 4,000 of our soldiers have been killed since we conquered them (!), and our country can't even handle domestic disasters properly because a large portion of our National Guard is overseas!

    There are so many other reasons for us to withdraw, as well: Recession, Inflation, greatly reduced funding to municipalities for public education and other services, rising unemployment and poverty, the mortgage disaster–which has had a devastating effect on the stock market, the devaluation of the Dollar, unbelievable oil prices that are affecting us in every way (the price of oil, heating, commercial products, etc.), and so much more.

    In my 60 years, I've seen America go from a near-great nation to an International Joke. For reasons that I will never fully understand, others re-elected a man who squanders billions in Iraq every week (!), yet vetoes a bill that would enable children who have no Medical Insurance to be covered.

    On this Memorial Day, as I remember the vast number of men and women who died to keep us free, my heart is greatly saddened.

    May 26, 2008 at 3:13 pm |
  15. Janna

    You and the rest of our troops have our nation's thoughts, prayers and immense gratitude. My nephew is about to serve his first Iraqi tour, and I'm sure this Memorial Day is taking on a whole new meaning to him as well. Stay safe.

    May 26, 2008 at 2:49 pm |
  16. Changis Hakim

    I am a naturalized US citizen.
    Today on Memorial Day I want to salute all our service men and women, those who are on active duty,those are in the reserves and those who have served their time in the past.

    Words fail me when it comes to expressing my deepest appreciation and gratitude to these brave souls who make the ultimate sacrifice so that the rest of us can enjoy the freedoms of this great country of ours.

    May the God bless them all and may God provide comfort to the family members who mourn the loss of their loved ones and are remembering them not just today but each and every day. May God provide courage, strength and resources for those that are left behind,
    the wives, the husbands, the children.

    I salute you all.

    Changis Hakim

    May 26, 2008 at 2:32 pm |
  17. Vig

    Last night I watched the HBO movie "Recount" about the 2000 Presidential election and the thought that kept crossing my mind was "what if" the Supreme Court had handed that election to Gore instead of Bush. There would have been no war in Iraq. The focus would have been where it belonged after 9/11 – Bin Laden territories and his capture. Now we have thousands dead, misery beyond misery, the curse of life long grief and a war without end.

    May 26, 2008 at 2:32 pm |
  18. Tammy, Berwick, LA

    To all who serve us and all who support them, thank you. Memorial Day was never a big deal. Sometimes our family would start summer vacations then. Or we'd barbeque. It really wasn't about veterans. Often as a teacher I'd work (as I did this morning) closing out the school year. I would always show my students a war-related film around Memorial Day and discuss the sacrifices from a historical standpoint. It never hit home until 2005. In May of that year my childhood friend Michael died stateside from injuries sustained in Iraq. Memorial Day unfortunately became real. And it has been ever since. Mike was my hero at 13 way before he ever grew up and became a soldier and hero in the eyes of the world. At any rate, he is missed and thought of every day. It's just nice that the rest of the world gets to remember him, too, and all the other men and women who were somebody's hero way before they ever put on a uniform.

    May 26, 2008 at 2:17 pm |
  19. L Daniel, Loganville, Ga.

    I would like to take this moment to thank all who have and is serving our country, was it not for your selfless act we would not have the opportunities we have today.

    May 26, 2008 at 1:23 pm |