A life well lived

Normally I don't like using the first person pronoun in the political screeds that sometimes appear in this space. Today, though, is a significant exception because I would like to tell you about a man who laid down his life so that the brave and jubilant Iraqi people could defy the assassins in their midst and begin shaping a government of themselves, for themselves, and by themselves. That man was my cousin, Luke Frist.

Spc. Luke Frist was a member of the Army Reserve and worked in Iraq as a petroleum specialist, helping refuel and maintain Humvees and other military vehicles. Luke joined the 209th Quartermaster Company of the Army Reserve based in Lafayette, Indiana, well before September 11, 2001. He grew up in an old farmhouse in the rural town of Brookston and planned on attending nearby Purdue University upon his return from Iraq, which was slated for April 2004.

Luke was the latest link in his family's chain of military service: his uncle was a colonel in the Air Force and flew C—130s during the Vietnam War. His great uncle — my grandfather — fought the Japanese at Guadalcanal. Two of his cousins serve actively in the Air Force and Marine Corps respectively. In Iraq, Luke carried with him the same Bible his grandfather carried in World War II. While he let parents and friends know that he enjoyed his work in Iraq and was deeply committed to the mission, he — like any normal human being — looked forward to coming home.

In the first days of 2004, Luke was part of a refueling convoy near Baghdad that simultaneously ran over a land mine and was attacked with hand grenades. Over ninety percent of Luke's body was burned because of the explosions, and he was immediately airlifted to Germany. His cousin in the Air Force, Capt. Melissa Acheson, happened to be stationed there and looked after his care. Shortly after Luke's parents arrived in Germany, the family made the trip to Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, where Luke died on January 5.

Luke was 20 years old.

His hometown and its media honored Luke as an American hero, and because the short story of his life had touched so many, his funeral was held in the gymnasium of his old high school. During that funeral, Luke was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star. The procession to the cemetery seemed endless, with cars backed up at least a mile, police stopping oncoming traffic, and citizens coming out of their houses in bitter cold and wind to stand with their hands over their hearts. Heartbreaking does not adequately describe watching the mother of a 20—year old being presented with the American flag that had draped her son's coffin.

Yet for all of this, I could not help but smile through a tear or two watching today's coverage of the Iraqi elections. I smiled because a large part of the mission's goal in Iraq has come to fruition in astonishing fashion and under dangerous circumstances. It is a victory for the brave citizens of Iraq, who would probably sooner stand in line to vote and risk meeting head on with a homicide bomber than get into the front seat of a '69 Olds with a man who would shamefully deny them their God—given right to freedom.

It is a victory for freedom, for those who fought and died for it, and for those who persevered in the face of unrelenting criticism, falsehoods, and the plain ignorance of those who would be human shields for tyranny, but not for democracy, of those who marched not with the American flag, but behind the banners of cowering nations and organizations that freely and knowingly funded a killer.

I shed tears of sadness because Luke is gone, but also tears of joy because his work and his sacrifice helped bring liberty to an oppressed people. His work and his sacrifice helped defeat a murderous gang of thugs who are finally being exterminated from the Earth. His work and his sacrifice enabled people a world away live in freedom. How many of us can say that about our own lives?

Successfully holding an election to organize what amounts to a constitutional convention does not mean the end of violence. More American servicemen and women will die, and more civilians will die as the terrorists spend their dying breaths trying to stop an unstoppable force. They will not succeed, and they will not succeed because the door of freedom has been busted open by the courage of Iraqi citizens, and the sacrifices of men and women like Luke Frist. History will long remember just who made it happen.     

On this monumental day that signals a seismic shift toward freedom and light in a region that has for too long known terror and darkness, I could not be more proud to call one of those who gave his life to ensure that this day would come my cousin, and I could not be more proud to be an American.

Matt May can be reached at matthewtmay@yahoo.com; his blogspot is mattymay.blogspot.com

Normally I don't like using the first person pronoun in the political screeds that sometimes appear in this space. Today, though, is a significant exception because I would like to tell you about a man who laid down his life so that the brave and jubilant Iraqi people could defy the assassins in their midst and begin shaping a government of themselves, for themselves, and by themselves. That man was my cousin, Luke Frist.

Spc. Luke Frist was a member of the Army Reserve and worked in Iraq as a petroleum specialist, helping refuel and maintain Humvees and other military vehicles. Luke joined the 209th Quartermaster Company of the Army Reserve based in Lafayette, Indiana, well before September 11, 2001. He grew up in an old farmhouse in the rural town of Brookston and planned on attending nearby Purdue University upon his return from Iraq, which was slated for April 2004.

Luke was the latest link in his family's chain of military service: his uncle was a colonel in the Air Force and flew C—130s during the Vietnam War. His great uncle — my grandfather — fought the Japanese at Guadalcanal. Two of his cousins serve actively in the Air Force and Marine Corps respectively. In Iraq, Luke carried with him the same Bible his grandfather carried in World War II. While he let parents and friends know that he enjoyed his work in Iraq and was deeply committed to the mission, he — like any normal human being — looked forward to coming home.

In the first days of 2004, Luke was part of a refueling convoy near Baghdad that simultaneously ran over a land mine and was attacked with hand grenades. Over ninety percent of Luke's body was burned because of the explosions, and he was immediately airlifted to Germany. His cousin in the Air Force, Capt. Melissa Acheson, happened to be stationed there and looked after his care. Shortly after Luke's parents arrived in Germany, the family made the trip to Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, where Luke died on January 5.

Luke was 20 years old.

His hometown and its media honored Luke as an American hero, and because the short story of his life had touched so many, his funeral was held in the gymnasium of his old high school. During that funeral, Luke was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star. The procession to the cemetery seemed endless, with cars backed up at least a mile, police stopping oncoming traffic, and citizens coming out of their houses in bitter cold and wind to stand with their hands over their hearts. Heartbreaking does not adequately describe watching the mother of a 20—year old being presented with the American flag that had draped her son's coffin.

Yet for all of this, I could not help but smile through a tear or two watching today's coverage of the Iraqi elections. I smiled because a large part of the mission's goal in Iraq has come to fruition in astonishing fashion and under dangerous circumstances. It is a victory for the brave citizens of Iraq, who would probably sooner stand in line to vote and risk meeting head on with a homicide bomber than get into the front seat of a '69 Olds with a man who would shamefully deny them their God—given right to freedom.

It is a victory for freedom, for those who fought and died for it, and for those who persevered in the face of unrelenting criticism, falsehoods, and the plain ignorance of those who would be human shields for tyranny, but not for democracy, of those who marched not with the American flag, but behind the banners of cowering nations and organizations that freely and knowingly funded a killer.

I shed tears of sadness because Luke is gone, but also tears of joy because his work and his sacrifice helped bring liberty to an oppressed people. His work and his sacrifice helped defeat a murderous gang of thugs who are finally being exterminated from the Earth. His work and his sacrifice enabled people a world away live in freedom. How many of us can say that about our own lives?

Successfully holding an election to organize what amounts to a constitutional convention does not mean the end of violence. More American servicemen and women will die, and more civilians will die as the terrorists spend their dying breaths trying to stop an unstoppable force. They will not succeed, and they will not succeed because the door of freedom has been busted open by the courage of Iraqi citizens, and the sacrifices of men and women like Luke Frist. History will long remember just who made it happen.     

On this monumental day that signals a seismic shift toward freedom and light in a region that has for too long known terror and darkness, I could not be more proud to call one of those who gave his life to ensure that this day would come my cousin, and I could not be more proud to be an American.

Matt May can be reached at matthewtmay@yahoo.com; his blogspot is mattymay.blogspot.com