Opinion: A death while serving will never be senseless

by Air Force Staff Sgt. William Banton
Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson Public Affairs

Air Force bids farewell to Combat Talon I
Hollywood has always had a “hot-or-cold” relationship with the U.S. military, sometimes praising our efforts, like the post-World War II-era movies, and sometimes questioning our actions, as in many Vietnam-era movies.

Now it is the current generation of veterans and service members who face the public scrutiny of Hollywood’s media machine. The products of this industry have already started to define the history of today’s veterans.

The most recent example of the media coverage of service members’ actions, the theatrical version of the book “Lone Survivor” ( a film I have not yet seen), brings to light the heroism and sacrifice of U.S. service members.

I recently watched an interview from a reputable news source in which the reporter used the words “senseless death” in highlighting the actions of the modern-day warriors depicted in this film — the type of people I’ve been honored to work with.

While watching this interview, I found myself amazed at the impressions many Americans have regarding the U.S. military and the sacrifices made to protect this country.
To be blunt, some people don’t get it.

I’ve spent seven years, five months and nine days in the military. Four years were devoted to honoring the dead as member of the U.S. Air Force Honor Guard and two years as a public affairs specialist for the 1st Special Operations Wing, Air Force Special Operations Command, Hurlburt Field, Fla. I have had the privilege to spend my career writing about or honoring the sacrifices of true American heroes.

While I am in no way an expert on every service member and why they do what they do, I feel the need to spell something out: while these sacrifices are tragic, they will never be senseless.

It’s not about glory, sacrifice or honor, though many noble people have achieved all three. Many great men and women will tell you this is just a job and they need the paycheck. I’ve had those days too.

It doesn’t matter if they are stellar service members, are still trying to find their niche, or if they signed up for the benefits or for the education. The men and women of the armed services are less than one percent — of more than 300 million citizens – who have sworn to defend this country with their lives.

This is a country people die trying to enter — just for the slim chance of having a better life. This is a country in which countless numbers have died to uphold the ideals of freedom its founding fathers established more than 200 years ago.

No matter what you think of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan or the current state of this country, a death in the service of others — when so few are willing to step up — will never be senseless.

During my career as ceremonial guardsman I preformed hundreds of funerals for veterans and service members. Some of the people were more famous than others, like Chief of Staff of the Air Force Lew Allen Jr., or the first Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force, Paul W. Airey. Some of the funerals were more memorable then others, like the young child at his parent’s funeral who was clearly oblivious to what this loss meant. Or the man who was the only person at his father’s funeral who was so grateful for the service we provided that he insisted on personally shaking everyone’s hand.

Of all the funerals I served at, the ones that stand out the most were repatriation ceremonies.

These funerals involved remains which had been missing, in some cases, 30 to 40 years. These funerals always stand out to me because I was able to see the faces of families who had lived their whole lives without their loved ones, and how much that sacrifice affected their lives.

I was able to look into the eyes of a wife who finally received closure after years of uncertainty. In those moments, I was able to truly understand how meaningful that person’s life was to her. For me, that is not senseless.

Hollywood, for better or worse, will always be there to dramatize the actions of great people. Their doing so is another way of ensuring their deaths will never be senseless– for the only senseless death in the service of the country is one which is forgotten.

Now it’s your turn. What are your thoughts?

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Opinion: A death while serving will never be senseless