Editorial: A story of service to remember for all veterans
Recovering from devastating war injuries at Walter Reed Medical Center long before thoughts of a political future entered her mind, Capt. Tammy Duckworth had the U.S. Army's "Soldier's Creed" posted in her hospital room and recited it constantly. There is a particular phrase in that creed that resonates with us today, Veterans Day, and that extends well beyond the limits of Duckworth's experience or the dimensions of any particular branch of the U.S. Armed Forces.
"I serve the people of the United States," the creed states.
As Duckworth's experience, along with the experiences of the crew members who themselves suffered even while saving her life, demonstrates, that service can demand a heavy personal toll.
It is an accident of timing that Duckworth's "Alive Day" in 2004, the day she and her crew members were nearly -- but not -- killed in an attack on their Black Hawk helicopter, falls just one day after Veterans Day. It is with purposeful intent that on this day, we thank them.
Duckworth, of Hoffman Estates, now the Democratic U.S. congressman from the 8th District, is quick to emphasize that her story is not unique. It has been repeated thousands of times in a thousand unique ways by men and women serving their country in uniform both before our entry into the Iraq War and since. And the heroes of her story, she stresses, are the comrades who refused to leave her behind, who, though in some cases injured themselves, risked mortal danger to get her to safety.
On the 10th anniversary of the attack, our series "We Were Almost Home" -- reported by Politics Editor Mike Riopell working with Deputy Managing Editor Diane Dungey, Director of Visual Journalism Jeff Knox, photographers Bob Chwedyk, George LeClaire and Mark Welsh, Presentation Editor Tim Broderick and Online Editor Travis Siebrass -- tells Duckworth's story, or more accurately the Black Hawk chopper crew's story in which she plays a part. But it is not hers, or even theirs, alone. If you take nothing else from the project, remember that one line from the Soldier's Creed: "I serve the people of the United States."
Service. The word is so much a part of our lexicon regarding the military -- the armed services, one's military service, servicemen and women, even public service -- that it risks becoming something like verbal wallpaper, ever present but somehow overlooked because of its very universality. Yet it is the foundation of the selfless activities undertaken by the millions of men and women in uniform.
Nor does it necessarily end with a single selfless act or a single tour of duty. Duckworth's husband, Major Bryan Bowlsbey, whom she met more than 23 years ago in ROTC, deployed to the Middle East just two years into her recovery and remains in the National Guard. Several of her crew members returned to fight after recovering from their injuries. One of them is considering entering politics as Duckworth did, though it bears emphasizing that the foundation of service underlies all parties. Duckworth is a Democrat, but both major parties are well represented among the scores of veterans in Congress. In a very different time, Republican John McCain -- as one example -- transformed the spirit of service that sustained him through years as a POW in Vietnam into decades of leadership in the U.S. Senate.
But it's important that we not let the highly visible field of politics obscure the abundant stories of sacrifice and service that have occurred and are occurring every day involving everyday men and women, our sons, daughters, mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, friends, co-workers and neighbors, who focused their energies for a period of time on preserving and protecting the freedoms we all enjoy.
Speaking of all men and women in the military, Duckworth says in our series, "the effects of that service, both bad and good, last for the rest of your lives."
True enough, as she is ample evidence. But they also last for the rest of everyone else's life, too, a fact we must reinforce in our thoughts and prayers today and remember every day.