This past Friday began as a struggle for me. Quite honestly, I wasn’t looking forward to my normal Saturday of college football, or anything else, for that matter. It had nothing to do with my Georgia Bulldogs having a bye week, or even the fact that they had slipped in the polls after the loss to Alabama. None of that seemed to matter because Friday was October 3rd.
It was the anniversary of a day that I wish had never dawned, and one that I am certain I shall never forget. The news report simply said that on October 3, 2005, a Marine had been killed in Karabaliah, Iraq, the first to die in Operation Iron Fist. That Marine was Corporal John Stalvey, with the Third Battalion, Sixth Marine Regiment, Second Marine Division.
I was in an electronics store in Atlanta when the call came that morning and broke my heart. I put my face in my hands and wept. John Stalvey was not just another picture on the evening news of some mother’s son who had died in a far-away land.
This one hit home in a personal way.
I learned something that day—behind every cold statistic of war there is a broken and weeping family, an empty room, a host of hurting friends, and a story. I was a part of his story.
I taught John history in high school, but our friendship went beyond the normal teacher-student relationship. He became a dear friend of our family, and called me once from Afghanistan to ask some advice and to thank me for the impact I had on his life.
If only he knew it was he who impacted me.
John was an all-American type kid. He was “Mr. Hustle” in every sport he participated in, and could have been a hard-nose defensive back had he chosen to go to college, but to no one's surprise John joined the Marines.
Edmund Burke once said, “All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.” John Stalvey was never the type to do nothing.
The decisions to wage war belong to the politicians, but the honor belongs to the soldiers—those actually engaged in the struggle of the battlefield. They are the real heroes. It has always been the soldier who made the greatest sacrifice for our freedom.
Freedom’s worth can never be measured by the unfathomable amounts of money spent to finance the wars that have been fought to secure our independence and to sustain our liberty. The worth of freedom can only be measured by the sacrifice of those who paid the ultimate price.
If you want to glimpse the price of freedom, go stand amidst the hush of Arlington National Cemetery, or walk the beaches of Normandy where the blood of America’s brave sons once mingled with the waters of the mighty Atlantic. Walk the hallowed fields of Manassas and remember that our nation once struggled as brother against brother.
Hear the weeping children whose father never returned from war, or the broken-hearted parents who welcomed home a flag-draped casket. Look into the eyes of a young wife who with trembling hands receives a folded flag on behalf of a grateful nation.
It would do us well to remember that freedom is never free. The little things we so enjoy, like standing in a stadium packed with screaming people watching our favorite college team take the field, or gathering for a backyard barbeque just before tuning into the next “biggest game of the year,” are privileges of freedom that should never be taken for granted.
May we also remember that the battles we write about on Bleacher Report, those between the Dawgs and the Gators, Alabama and Auburn, Texas and Oklahoma—those are not the ones that really matter the most. Far away from the safety of home and the cheers of an appreciative crowd, there is a battle going on where winning and losing is measured in life and death rather than numbers on a scoreboard. They should never be far from our thoughts and always in our prayers.
As I thought about the weekend before me, I knew John would not have me dress in black and immerse my life in a funeral dirge. He would forbid me to spend the weekend in mourning. I said a prayer of thanks for my friend and for my freedom, and then I enjoyed the gift of life.
I ran, I laughed, I lived, I watched college football with my family, and I went to church.
That’s how John would have wanted it.
Semper Fi, John. I love you, my friend!