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Working for a daily newspaper serving a military community makes news about our nation’s war effort in foreign lands a familiar thing. It occupies our pages frequently. And on more occasions than any collection of small towns should experience, we’ve published the stories of young men our area has given up on the battlefield.
Like others, I’ve lead my staff curbside along U.S. 31W to stand in silence and honor these young soldiers who have fallen in combat as they slowly passed by en route to their final resting place. Each time, sorrow has been painfully evident in the eyes of those accompanying these young warriors home in their slow moving processions.
In these past experiences, I thought I had somehow connected with the loss and pain it brought to families involved.
How pitifully little did I know.
The war in Afghanistan became much more personal for my family recently. A cell phone call just a few days ago brought news that my nephew, Michael, had been killed in action in Logar province, Afghanistan.
My wife and I already were emotionally drained when the call came. Just a few hours earlier that day, we had buried my father. Needless to say, the news of the loss of another family member devastated us, especially one as young and full of promise as Michael.
My dad’s death followed a very long and difficult battle with complications stemming from multiple organ transplants, but his battle ended peacefully only a few days prior. The details we since have learned surrounding Michael’s death have brought us to the difficult understanding that his life did not come to the same peaceful close as did my father’s.
My nephew, Pfc. Michael C. Mahr, 54th Engineer Battalion, 18th Engineer Brigade, gave the full measure in service to our nation on March 22 when enemy forces attacked his unit with improvised explosives, rocket-propelled grenades and small arms fire.
He was driving a lead armored vehicle on a route clearance mission. Three other soldiers accompanied Michael in his vehicle. One of them, Staff Sgt. Joshua S. Gire of Chillicothe, Ohio, also was killed in the roadside attack.
I want you to know Michael, or at least to know a little about him.
Michael and his identical twin brother, Matt, were rambunctious 8-years-old when my wife and I were married. They were fun kids to be around. Throughout their lives together, “the twins” as we called them were inseparable. All-American boys, they loved to swim, have a game of catch and cast a fishing lure in their Grandpa’s small pond, regardless of the fact that it was occupied more with small central Florida alligators than fish.
Although almost 10 years older than my son, Michael and Matt were like loving big brothers to him. They included my son in games they’d play when the family was together, not shunning or being impatient with him as some older teens often have the tendency to do when around much younger children. My son looked up to them with the same admiration a little brother would have for his older siblings.
When Michael began playing football with his twin on their South Sumter County High School team in central Florida, my son’s admiration swelled for his cousins. Even today, in fact, he has photographs, small keepsake footballs and other mementos from their championship games hanging alongside his own John Hardin High School Bulldogs football memorabilia on a bookshelf in his room.
In addition to all these memories, what I and my family will hold to most regarding Michael is his kind heart, generous nature and soft-spoken manner.
From a good kid who loved his family dearly, Michael matured into an even better young man and husband. He wanted a good life for his wife, Stephanie, and his 3-year-old son, Jaden. Like many young soldiers, he saw the Army as the ideal way to make this dream and desire a reality.
But equally important, Michael, like the mass of young soldiers who make up our military’s 9/11 generation, his love of country burned inside with an intensity that gave him motivation to enlist in the Army.
When doing so, Michael knew he was going to war. There wasn’t a doubt that he’d soon stand in harm’s way to protect and defend our way of life.
Michael had been in the Army less than a year and in Afghanistan less than four months. But heroism isn’t measured by dates on a calendar, nor courage by the clicking of a clock. The ultimate sacrifice that Michael and Staff Sgt. Gire offered of themselves through their mission to make that distant roadway more safely traveled by their brothers and sisters in arms is eternal.
I am proud of my nephew. I’m thankful for the memories I have of him as a child, as a teenager and for what I know of his dedication as a young husband and father. Mostly, I know that through his death in service to this country and a multitude of people he would never know, Michael will always be a better man than I could ever hope to be.
Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.
Chris Ordway is publisher of The News-Enterprise.
He can be reached at (270) 505-1466 or cordway@thenews