This Memorial Day weekend, we’ll gather together with family and friends to usher in the unofficial start of summer. We will do so in peace, security, and freedom.
It’s easy to take that for granted. But these blessings are exceptional. They’re not given; they’re earned. They were bought at a price — a price of injuries and sacrifice, and sometimes lives.
So as we spend time with loved ones this Memorial Day weekend, let’s be sure to think about those who sacrificed their lives so that we could live.
This weekend I’ll be thinking about Cameron Thomas, from Kettering, Ohio.
If you ask folks in Kettering about him they’ll tell you that Cameron was smart, funny, and above all patriotic. His nickname was “Captain America.” He was on the swim team in school. He wanted to follow in his Dad’s footsteps and have a military career.
In a lot of ways, he might have seemed like an ordinary kid. But he soon showed himself to be a hero. Right after graduating from Kettering Fairmont High School in Kettering, Cameron joined the Army, where he so impressed his commanding officers that he became a member of the elite Army Rangers at just 19 years old — making him one of the youngest rangers in U.S. Army history.
He deployed to Afghanistan three times. He was a decorated soldier and a patriot who was proud to be part of the war against terrorism.
Late last month, during a raid on an ISIS terrorist compound in Eastern Afghanistan, Sgt. Thomas was killed. He was just 23 years old. We lost a gifted, selfless young man who put his life on the line for all of us.
Today I’m also thinking about Daniel Kinnard of Newark, Ohio.
Earlier this month, I was in Newark for the dedication of the Daniel Kinnard V.A. Outpatient Clinic. I co-authored the Senate legislation to name this building after him because he exemplified what the VA is all about.
Dan was a medic who was killed in action in Vietnam while bravely tending to the wounded. Though he was only 18, he had already received the Bronze Star for Valor for another time he had risked his own life to save others. According to his citation, he rushed through heavy fire to tend to two fellow soldiers and then organized an evacuation. He was fearless.
At 18, he had his whole life ahead of him: marriage, kids, a career. When he left for Vietnam, he was engaged to his high school sweetheart.
He knew the risks of going to war. But as he was leaving Ohio, he told his mom, “whatever happens, don’t be sad.”
He loved this country and he loved the Army. He joined as soon as he could, signing up for the legendary 101st Airborne — the Screaming Eagles — right after graduation. Daniel’s Mom Kathryn says that, if he had come home from the war, he probably would have stayed in the Army for a long career.
He left behind an incredible example that will not be forgotten. Every time people go to the Kinnard VA Center in Newark, they’ll see his name, read his plaque and remember how he risked his life to save others.
We can never repay these two brave Ohioans for their service, nor can we fully thank them. But I hope that everyone will join me in lifting up their families in prayer on this weekend set aside for them and the thousands of other brave Americans who made the ultimate sacrifice for us.
Ohio is proud of their service and grateful to their families. Their examples have a lot to teach us — about selflessness, about dedication, and about courage.
Rob Portman is a United States senator from Ohio.