"Remember us. Remember why we died."
In the movie "300," King Leonidas sent this order back to Sparta as he led a handful of his soldiers to certain death at the battle of Thermopylae. In 480 B.C., three hundred soldiers died defending Greece against an overwhelming army of invading Persians. Had they not been willing to sacrifice all for their way of life, democracy might well have died aborning.
Soldiers facing death in defense of their country ask only to be remembered, nothing more. So it was that in August I stood on the tarmac at Savannah's Hunter Army Airfield, honoring Leonidas' request.
The 3rd Infantry Division's Combat Aviation Brigade was returning from nine months in Afghanistan, and I was on a mission. Scanning the line of soldiers trudging off the plane, I kept watch for one particular soldier, Sergeant Agrillo Adams.
Rosann Buccieri, who lives in Ohio, had become a second mother to Sergeant Adams during his nine-month deployment. Their lives had intersected through our Adopt a Soldier program.
"Please meet him when he gets off the plane," Rosann wrote. "And give him a red rose for me." Sgt. Adams is a single soldier and had no family to greet him. Rosann was worried about him.
I found Sgt. Adams, but as I delivered Rosann's welcome home hug, I thought of the seven soldiers of the Combat Aviation Brigade who had not come home with their battle buddies. They had given their lives for our country.
Given that Sgt. Adams could easily have been among those who fell in battle, why had a lady in her 80s wanted to risk such heartache? In Rosann's initial email asking to adopt a soldier, she said that she felt close to the military due to what her husband had suffered in World War II. Curious, I asked where he had fought. Several days later a book arrived in the mail. It proved to be the transcription of an interview between author John Sackenheim and Rosann's husband Tony.
The author probed Tony's memory of fighting at Anzio beachhead in Italy and the push to clear Germans from the area around Rome. During fierce combat around Lanuvio, a German bullet slammed into Tony's shoulder. It shattered three ribs, nicked his pericardium, and punctured his lung. Unable to walk more than a few steps, he lay in a canal for five days as the battle thundered around him. "If I could have breathed, I could have got away," Tony said. On May 28, 1944, he was taken prisoner by a passing German patrol.
Tony spent a year at Stalag 7-A, north of Munich. Despite his lingering wounds, a shortage of food, and little protection against a frigid winter, Tony hung onto life.
"Good old Georgie Patton" liberated Tony's camp in May of 1945.
When the interviewer tried to call him a hero, Tony wouldn't have it. "The real heroes never came home," he said.
The wounds Pfc. Tony Buccieri suffered during World War II compromised his health and eventually shortened his life. Yet he and Rosann led productive lives, reared a family and, in the process, built a great nation.
Sgt. Agrillo Adams, Pfc. Tony Buccieri and all who have ever served in uniform stand in a line of American patriots stretching back to the founding of our country. They are linked in spirit, courage, and sacrifice to warriors down the ages who have stood to the death in defense of all they hold dear.
They ask only one thing.
Remember us. Remember why we died.
Carol Megathlin, formerly of Americus, is a Georgia writer who now lives in Savannah; firstname.lastname@example.org.