YNN 10 Years: Remembering the fallen
As YNN prepares to mark 10 years of covering the Capital Region, there’s one story we’ve been telling since the beginning - the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. And while those military conflicts may be happening thousands of miles away, the impact is felt here locally. There are tales of heroism and heartbreak and they can’t be told without the men and women from our backyard. YNN’s Erin Connolly has the story.
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September 11th, 2001. It's one of those few days you remember where you were and what you were doing. It's a day that forever changed the way we live. A day that inspired some to serve and protect our country.
Kathy Brown, the mother of Pfc. Nathan Brown, said, "He goes, I got to enlist, Mom. I got to enlist. I got to enlist. We're going to go to war. I know we are. I've got to do something. I have to help.''
Nathan Brown of Glens Falls signed up for the National Guard in 2002 at the age of 18. Two years later, he was headed to Iraq, just a year after the war started - thousands of miles away from home, about to have his innocence shattered.
Brown said, ''I said, are you okay? And I remember him tearing up, and he goes, Mom, I've never killed a man. And I said, well, you've gotta do what you have to do, Nathan. Don't think Dad or I will love you any less because you have to do this.''
Soon after arriving in Iraq, Nathan realized the harsh reality of war and the fragility of life. On Easter Sunday 2004, just six weeks after being deployed, Brown was struck by a rocket propelled grenade and killed instantly. He was the first infantry soldier in the New York National Guard to be killed in combat since World War II. Brown was just 21 years old.
''At about 10:30 I think it was, they came to the door," remembered Brown. ''I knew. I stopped dead in the kitchen. I knew. All I can see is my family just crumbling at that doorway and turning and looking at me to save them, and I couldn't save them because I couldn't save myself.''
The role of the National Guard changed dramatically when the United States went to war. Citizen soldier became a familiar phrase. Men and women who never thought they would go to war did.
Lt. Col. Richard Goldenberg of the New York National Guard said, "We like to think here in the New York National Guard that our soldiers have a very important role because many of us have the dust of Ground Zero on our boots, so we carry that fight overseas with maybe a small chip on our shoulders knowing we have a personal stake in that matter.''
The New York State Military Museum in Saratoga Springs honors the sacrifice made by service members across the state and is a constant reminder that freedom is not free.
"I'm incredibly proud," said Command Sgt. Major Frank Wicks of the New York National Guard. "I'm proud every day when I pass the great soldiers that we work with, and I think back on the missions that we've accomplished and the knowledge to know that we are ready to accomplish future missions as they arise.''
Unfortunately, the loss of military members like Nathan Brown are all too common tragedies in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Nineteen armed service members with ties to the Capital Region have been killed. There have been almost 500 casualties across New York State.
U.S. Marine Reserve Captain John McKenna IV lost his life in Iraq in 2006 on his third tour overseas. The 30-year-old New York State Trooper was hit by a sniper, as he tried to save the life of a fellow comrade.
His father, John McKenna, said, "I'm incredibly proud that he did what he did for the reasons he did them. He did them to protect his Marine brothers. He did them because he is a true leader, and he was someone who instilled in everyone, including me, the idea of community service.''
For the families of those killed overseas, they say the pain lessens but never goes away. A hole in their hearts can never be filled knowing their loved one will never come home. They find solace only in memories.
Kathy Brown said, ''If they remember Nathan, that makes me happy. It makes me proud. We'll never forget him. We'll never forget him and many, many others."
For those who made it back safely to U.S. soil, they continue the transition back to civilian life. They deal with battle scars. Some you can see, some you can't. A new tower has reclaimed the Manhattan skyline - a visible sign of our nation's resilience and a tribute to the ultimate sacrifice made by the fallen like Brown and McKenna. While most of us will never don a uniform to fight for our country, we can always remember and honor the bravery of our men and women who risk it all for us.