Column: Honoring those who made the ultimate sacrifice

Marine Capt. Jennifer Harris of Swampscott was killed on Feb. 7, 2007, along with six other crew members, when insurgents shot down her helicopter. 

We have lost more than 6,700 American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, including more than 130 from here in Massachusetts -- brave men and women who sacrificed everything so the rest of us didn’t have to. In Iraq, I served with some of the best Americans I have ever met, and some of them lost their lives. Yet we have no place to gather -- as Marines, as families, or as a nation -- to honor their sacrifice and reflect on their loss.

On Friday, President Trump signed the Global War on Terrorism War Memorial Act into law after it unanimously passed both the House and the Senate. This is a major milestone in a journey my office started more than a year ago as a bipartisan effort to create a memorial honoring those who have served on active duty in the longest war in American history.

For me, this bill is personal. None of us will forget where we were on Sept. 11, 2001, and we all continue to live with the aftermath of that tragic day in American history. Especially in this year of deep political division, we would do well to remember that the tragic events of Sept. 11 did not leave us isolated and afraid as a nation. Rather, in true American fashion, the day inspired a new generation to come together and serve.

I was critical of the Iraq War when I served there, and now as a member of the House Armed Services Committee in Congress, I have worked relentlessly to stop repeating our mistakes of the past so that we can someday bring our troops home for good. But this doesn’t take anything away from how proud I was to serve our country in the Marines.

One fellow Marine from our district who would be honored by the memorial is Capt. Jennifer Harris of Swampscott. She was a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, flew “Sea Knight” helicopters in the Marines and, sadly, became the first Massachusetts woman killed in the Iraq War.

Captain Harris’s final mission was to transport blood supplies to troops in need. When she volunteered for the flight, she was told, “No. You're too close to leaving,” as she was just days away from returning home to Massachusetts. But she insisted, and convinced her superiors to let her go. To the end, she was the epitome of serving so that nobody had to go in her place.

Capt. Harris was killed on Feb. 7, 2007, along with six other crew members, when insurgents shot down her helicopter. In her 20s with a bright future ahead of her, Jennifer was on her third tour of duty in Iraq.

Jennifer Harris is just one example of the young men and women who stood up in communities like ours across the country and volunteered to serve in the Global War on Terror. I have never seen more people of Swampscott lining the roads than on the frigid day in the middle of a New England winter when we marched for her funeral. The town honored her beautifully on that day, but with a memorial in Washington, her friends and family will have a place to honor her sacrifice for the rest of their lives.

And generations of Americans, yet unborn, will read her name and perhaps someday hear her story, reminding them that a few serve in war so that the rest of us can live in peace.

As we debated the idea of starting work on a memorial before this long war is finished, I couldn’t help but think of my own grandfather who served in WWII. He was lucky--he came home, raised a wonderful family, and lived a long life. I know the death he saw in the Army in Europe bothered him--he didn’t like to talk about it--and so I imagine he would have wanted to honor the sacrifice he witnessed by visiting the magnificent World War II Memorial in Washington. Yet he never got to see it before he died.

Let’s not repeat that mistake. Let’s get this done for Capt. Jennifer Harris, her family, and the thousands of others like her who made the ultimate sacrifice for our country. Passage of this bill is an important first step in seeing a memorial for our new generation of veterans built in our lifetime.

Seth Moulton is congressman for the 6th Massachusetts District.



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