For love of country they accepted death…
~James A. Garfield
5 years ago the Hartley’s learned their son wouldn’t be returning home that Summer, or the next, or ever. Jeffrey Hartley had given the ultimate sacrifice for his country by giving his life. Thousands have done just the same, but Jeff was the first fallen soldier from the small town of Hempstead, TX and the first one that I knew personally.
Jeff and I met in our pre-cal class in High School and quickly became good friends. He wasn’t like the other boys, he was actually very respectful and kind. I enjoyed hanging out with him and we went to prom together our senior year. Even after High School he was one of the few friends that kept in touch and would never forget my birthday or special dates. Sometimes when I was back in town we would meet up at the High School and go chat with some of our favorite teachers. The last time we met up he gave me a sweet card and some dog tags before he deployed to Iraq again.
I can’t even begin to imagine what it was like to get that knock on the door, but my heart broke, especially for his family when I heard the news:
"SSgt. Hartley was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 10th Field Artillery Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, Fort Benning, Ga.; died April 8, 2008 in Kharguliah, Iraq, of wounds sustained when his vehicle encountered an improvised explosive device."
So sudden. Too soon. A quick blurb in the paper doesn’t do his life justice.
"Staff Sgt Jeffery L. Hartley was an Army Ranger and finished three deployments with the 3rd Ranger Battalion. Then he went to the 3rd Infantry Division. He had been deployed a total of five times. He did four tours that were in Iraq and one in Afghanistan. Jeff has more than 20 awards from the Army, including a bronze star and a purple heart."
I was privileged to be able to attend his funeral services and witness an entire community come together to honor our first fallen hero. People from all over that didn’t even know him came to show their love and support.
For Memorial Day, I hope you will take a few moments to honor and remember those who have lost their lives serving our country!
1- HOLD YOUR FLAG HIGH!
After the services, I was struck by the countless people who lined the streets holding flags, they saluted as the procession passed, and put their hands over their heart. It seemed to go on for miles with massive flags being held by fire trucks and some by dozens of people. It was a sight never to be forgotten. So hold your flag high and honor those who help make America Great!!!
2- JOIN A GANG!
I never knew groups like the Patriot Guard Riders existed until they showed up to Jeff’s services. I didn’t know who they were or what they did, but as soon as I did, I was ready to get a bike, a flag, and deck myself out in leather. If you really want to join a good cause you can join absolutely free and help them as “they stand for those that stood for us.”
Patriot Guard Riders Mission StatementThe Patriot Guard Riders is a diverse amalgamation of riders from across the nation. We have one thing in common besides motorcycles. We have an unwavering respect for those who risk their very lives for America’s freedom and security. If you share this respect, please join us. We don’t care what you ride or if you ride, what your political views are, or whether you’re a hawk or a dove. It is not a requirement that you be a veteran. It doesn’t matter where you’re from or what your income is; you don’t even have to ride. The only prerequisite is Respect. Our main mission is to attend the funeral services of fallen American heroes as invited guests of the family. Each mission we undertake has two basic objectives:
- Show our sincere respect for our fallen heroes, their families, and their communities.
- Shield the mourning family and their friends from interruptions created by any protestor or group of protestors.
3- NEVER FORGET!
Behind every fallen soldier is a family who is left grieving; take a moment to reach out to them. You can sign Jeff’s guestbook or reach out to someone else you may know. It doesn’t matter if you know what to say, just a simple “Thank You for your son’s sacrifice” lifts the spirits of those left suffering.
Visit memorial sights and teach your children that freedom isn’t free; it’s cost many great lives. I love seeing the beautiful bench, flag, and Texas monument that was dedicated to SSgt. Jeffery Lee Hartley. Everytime I take a trip to my hometown I’m reminded that he’s not forgotten and we are forever in his debt.
Think of all the little freedoms you enjoy every day… now go HUG a soldier (or a hand shake works too :), and give them a heartfelt THANK YOU; it’s because of them you continue to enjoy the simple things in life .
The Zac Brown Band sums it up well in one of my favorite songs:
I thank God for my life And for the stars and stripes May freedom forever fly Let it ring
Salute the ones who died The ones that give their lives So we don’t have to sacrifice All the things we love
Like our chicken fried
So as you eat your Chicken Fried this Memorial Day, remember Jeff Hartley and the thousands of others who have sacrificed their lives, so you don’t have to sacrifice the things you love.
GOD BLESS AMERICA!!!
And I’m proud to be an American, where at least I know I’m free. And I won’t forget the men who died, who gave that right to me. -Lee Greenwood