– Former Vice-President Joe Biden
These words came to mind as my wife and I visited the Remember Our Fallen memorial last month in Monroeville.
It was a moving tribute to all who have given their lives fighting terrorism, mostly in Iraq and Afghanistan. We were told by the young ladies manning the exhibit that there were 27 towers present with more than 7,000 names and faces on the banners attached to the three arms on each tower.
The faces of these mostly young men and women who died were Caucasian, Negro, Latino and some Oriental. With some certainty, I can also guess they were Christians, Jews, Muslims and maybe even some agnostics or atheists. I can also safely say there were heterosexuals, gays and lesbians as well. And, yes, there were even green-card holding individuals who never had the chance to be full-fledged American citizens. They all died in service to this country to keep us safe and free.
As I passed by each tower of faces and names, I could feel my throat tighten a bit as I imagined the parents, wives, husbands and other family members receiving the news that their loved one was killed in action. One of those faces on that banner was Monroeville’s own Jason Sparks. When I saw his face, my throat nearly went shut.
I remember my mother, who worked with Jason’s mother Lisa at the time, telling me that Lisa didn’t need to wonder why the uniformed men were in her driveway and standing on her lawn. She knew her Jason was gone. At that moment in time, the lives of Lisa and her husband Scott whirled out of control. I couldn’t catch my breath as I looked at that youthful, smiling face on that banner. I can only imagine the total lack of oxygen that left their lungs when they were told Jason had died in action.
I did not know Jason personally, but accounts of his character told by people I know well in Monroeville were glowing. Most people said he wore a smile permanently on his face. His caring and giving attitude were known in his school, church and community. Knowing this, I certainly don’t think Jason cared about who fought alongside him. He didn’t care about their race, gender, religious preference (if any) or their sexual identity. He fought beside all of them for one common goal — the love of their country.
As we mark yet another anniversary of Sept. 11, my prayer for the families of all those who have lost loved ones in this battle for freedom, is that soon the smile on their lips will come first before the tear in their eye. For Scott, Lisa and their family, if you’re not there yet, I’m sure Jason from his heavenly home is encouraging you to do so. He wouldn’t want it any other way.
Dennis Stieber is a Norwalk resident.