The Unknown Soldiers – Mementos

As veterans, troops and dignitaries gathered at Arlington National Cemetery on Veterans Day 2010, I reflected on a few moments I recently spent at the final resting spot of Pfc. Sam Huff, one of our nation’s fallen heroes from the Iraq War.

Buried on the sacred grounds of Arlington’s Section 60, where many of our post-9/11 heroes rest, Huff’s headstone was surrounded by several touching mementos on this gray, unusually humid late October day. They included a bright pink heart, a royal blue flower, a red rock and an American flag. While these precious items were presumably left by relatives or friends for their own reasons, there are parallels between these touching tokens of appreciation and the soldier’s compelling story.

The bright pink heart

Huff was a tough 18-year-old warrior, but also a “girlie-girl,” according to a 2005 article by Alex Fryer of The Seattle Times. She loved wearing long false eyelashes and often joked to fellow soldiers in Iraq that she could be in an air-conditioned studio modeling for Gap, where she had once landed a contract, instead of enduring the brutal desert heat. Huff loved to dance, especially with her fiance, with whom she had the romance most young women dream of.

The royal blue flower

Embedded inside this “girlie-girl” heart was a strong spirit of service. Fryer writes that the only child, just 16 at the time, stunned her parents when she told them she planned to leave Tucson, Ariz., to join the Army and later the FBI. Yet as soon as she came to boot camp and eventually Iraq, her noble dedication to the mission, balanced with a flower’s beauty, astonished fellow soldiers and even commanders.

“Within two weeks of her arriving in our unit, even I knew who she was,” Lt. Col. James Switzer said. “Battalion commanders get to know their soldiers for two reasons. They got in trouble or they are very unique individuals. Pfc. Huff was a unique individual. Her smile could light up a room. She could lighten the mood of any hardcore (noncommissioned officer) and even bring a smile to an old warrior’s face.”

The red rock

The young woman had a “backbone of steel,” according to Sgt. Sam James, her team leader. As noted in a 2005 article by Pfc. Dan Balda, the sergeant had a tremendous amount of respect for her intelligence and warrior instincts.

“You would be hard pressed to find a soldier that could learn and retain knowledge as fast as she did,” James said. “If I wrote down every positive quality I’d want in a soldier, Huff would still be better. She was the kind of soldier that made being a leader in the Army fun.”

Like a rock, as Bob Seger sang in the hit tune released the same year Huff was born, she was strong as she could be.

The American flag

Romantic as a Julia Roberts movie, motivated like Hilary Swank’s “Million Dollar Baby” character, gorgeous as the Gap models she could have worked with and tough as nails, Huff believed she was “in the right place, doing the right thing, with the right people,” as her parents conveyed to the military journalist. She loved America, and despite the uncomfortable uniform and unbearable Iraqi sun, Huff enjoyed serving with the 170th Military Police Company, 504th Military Police Battalion, 42nd Military Police Brigade, based out of Washington’s Fort Lewis.

On April 17, 2005, an improvised explosive device detonated near Huff’s Humvee. She sustained catastrophic injuries and tragically passed away at a Baghdad hospital.

At her Forward Operating Base Falcon memorial service, Switzer made a prediction about his soldier’s burial at Arlington National Cemetery.

“I can bet you the sun will be shining that day, and up in heaven, a bunch of old warriors will be smiling.”

Almost five and a half years after her Arlington funeral, Huff is buried next to her mother, retired Marine Cpl. Margaret Williams, who passed away from cancer on April 24, 2009, according to the Arlington National Cemetery website. While I didn’t realize I was visiting a mother and daughter at the time, I will make sure to say another prayer when I return to the cemetery.

On Veterans Day, many of Pfc. Sam Huff’s fellow troops who made it home from Iraq still miss their friend. Like millions of veterans around the country, they live with the pain of losing someone they hoped to share combat memories and new adventures with for the rest of their lives. Yet even amid tragedy and sorrow, the pink heart, royal blue flower, red rock and American flag show us that the beauty of this soldier’s wonderful life and service to our country will never fade.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Chuck Briese, Oak Ridge Now

[avatar user="cbriese" size="thumbnail" align="left"] Chuck Briese has been a resident of South Montgomery County since 1988. He and his lovely and patient wife, Leslie, have six sons, with only one left to finish high school. Chuck has been a Cub Scout leader, a Little League baseball coach, a church youth leader, and a general troublemaker over the course of the past 25 years. He is obsessed with his lawn, and likes restaurants that serve food that fills up the plate. He has a tendency to tilt at windmills, which may explain why he started Oak Ridge Now.

More Posts - Website