JOSHUA TREE — For his Memorial Day speech Monday, Lt. Col. Brent Stricker remembered his deployment in Afghanistan and a man who lost his life there.
“My time in Afghanistan was very trying,” Stricker told the people assembled for the Memorial Day service at Joshua Tree Memorial Park Monday.
Stricker is a Marine, but was stationed with the 101st Airborne Division in 2010. When two suicide bombers infiltrated the operating base and detonated suicide belts, an Army Special Forces soldier and Stricker’s sergeant were killed. The man had been in the country for two weeks and was replacing a staff sergeant about to return to America.
Stricker remembered overseeing the ramp ceremony — the memorial service where a fallen fighter’s casket is placed onto the aircraft to carry him home. Marines and soldiers file on board to place coins on his casket.
“The weather was perfect for the mood — grey, cloudy, rainy,” Stricker said. “The wind was coming off the Hindu Kush mountains.” Within five minutes, he couldn’t feel his fingers.
“When I exited that aircraft, the staff sergeant he volunteered to replace had broken down. He thought, ‘It should have been me.’”
Stricker said when he remembers his sergeant’s sacrifice, he remembers the dying words of Capt. John Miller to Private James Ryan in the film “Saving Private Ryan.” “Earn this,” the captain tells the private. “Earn it.”
“In my work with the Marine Corps, many times I’ve come to cemeteries like this and handed a widow an American flag. The last time I did that was January this year.” That service was for his father, who served in Vietnam.
“My father, the thing he was most proud of was his service to this country in Vietnam,” Stricker said.
“His death told me I need to earn the privilege of being an American in this century, in this place and time.”
Also speaking at the ceremony was Congressman Paul Cook, a Vietnam veteran, who lamented that too many people don’t recognize the meaning of Memorial Day anymore.
“More and more people don’t care about Memorial Day. It’s a holiday, it’s a race, it’s a day to take the grandchildren to the beach,” Cook said.
“My greatest fear is if a country forgets what Memorial Day is all about, you really have to ask yourself, is that country worth fighting for, worth dying for?”
The master of ceremonies was Abe Casiano, pastor of Sky View Community Chapel in Joshua Tree. Casiano closed the service with words of gratitude for the men and women who died in service.
“They didn’t go to war because they loved fighting. They were called to be part of something bigger than themselves,” Casiano said.
“Our gathering is one small spark in a fire of pride that burns across the nation today and every day.”