By TRICIA RAYMOND
On October 6, 2013, 24-year-old Cpl. Josh Hargis, a member of the 3rd Army Ranger Battalion, was with his unit searching for a “high value target” at a home in the Panjwai district of Afghanistan. Thirty-six Rangers and a canine unit were dispatched on the mission. Upon approaching the home, they called out for the occupants to exit. A man appeared, dropped to his knees, and lifted his shirt to show that he was not wired with explosives. As the troops approached the man for questioning, an Afghan woman suddenly appeared at the door. She was wired.
Several members of the unit were killed instantly, including the dog. But, the melee was not over. As combat medics, explosives experts, and other members moved in to offer aid and assistance, 13 additional explosives were tripped. Cpl. Hargis was among those who were severely wounded.
Fellow soldiers kept him alive for roughly two hours before he could be transported to the hospital.
Lying in a hospital bed after surgery, Cpl. Hargis’s commanding officer officiated the military ceremony to award him the Purple Heart for “wounds received in action.” Hargis was covered by a red, white, and blue blanket, most likely hand sewn by a volunteer with Blankets of Hope, a charity that supplies combat support hospitals in war zones with blankets for wounded soldiers. It is a simple gesture to assure soldiers that someone back home remembers them and is praying for them.
Hargis, a graduate of Gilbert Dater High School in Cincinnati, had just gotten out of surgery and was hooked up to a myriad of medical tubes and devices. Both legs had to be amputated, but he was alive. Doctors, nurses, brothers in arms, and military officers—a crowd of roughly 50 people—stood around his bed while the Ranger Regimental Commander proceeded to pin the medal on Hargis’s blanket. Everyone thought Cpl. Hargis was still unconscious.
But, as the officer proceeded to read the commendation, Cpl. Hargis began lifting his right arm in salute. It’s military protocol, you know.
One of the doctors tried to restrain him. But, Hargis, despite pain, heavy bandaging, and emotional trauma, fought back and managed to get his hand to his forehead. The commanding officer later wrote Hargis’s wife that her husband’s action brought even the men, battle-hardened warriors, to tears. Someone snapped a picture. The story went viral.
Taylor, Josh’s wife, posted the commander’s letter on her Facebook page along with the picture. “I cannot impart to you the level of emotion that poured through the intensive care unit that day. Grown men began to weep and we were speechless at a gesture that speaks volumes about Josh’s courage and character. The picture, which we believe belongs on every news channel and every newspaper, is attached. I have it hanging above my desk now and will remember it as the single greatest event I have witnessed in my 10 years in the Army.”
No doubt the war in Afghanistan is not what most Americans think of as we go about our day-to-day activities. I know I don’t. Paying the bills, getting the garage cleaned out, cheering on our favorite football teams, shopping for the holidays—these are the types of things that occupy our time. And, certainly, as Americans, we are immeasurably blessed to live in a country where acts of terrorism are still the exception, rather than the norm.
But, maybe it’s time we give more thought to the young men and women still serving our nation on the other side of the globe. And every other Veteran who has served so nobly.
At this writing, there have been 2,287 American soldiers killed in Afghanistan. Countless others have been wounded. You can see the names of those who gave the ultimate sacrifice by going to http://icasualties.org/OEF/Fatalities.aspx. Most are in their 20s. Unless you know them or read their hometown paper, you would never know of their sacrifice. The national news outlets no longer report war casualties, except as a blurb on the rolling bar at the bottom of the screen. We only know of Josh’s unit because of his inspiring salute.
This Veteran’s Day, let’s all find a way to demonstrate gratitude to the men and women who have sacrificed and are sacrificing so much to protect our freedom and way of life. Send a note. Send a donation to the USO. Get your Sunday School to adopt a soldier. Offer a word of encouragement to a soldier’s family. Say a prayer.
There are thousands of Cpl. Hargis’ out there. And thousands more who fought in other foreign lands—Korea, Vietnam, Normandy, the Philippines, just to name a few. They deserve to know we appreciate their sacrifice. It’s the least we can do.