A few years ago I heard our Survivor Outreach Services was displaying boots at Hedrick Stadium that represented all of the fallen Soldiers since 911. I figured this may be worth a photo for the Paraglide, so I grabbed a camera and headed to the stadium. I had about 15 minutes open, and I could easily get the shots I wanted and get back to work. As I came over the top of the stadium, I was not prepared for what I saw. I stopped, probably with my mouth open and stared at a quiet field filled with boots. The 15 minutes would soon become an hour.
Below me just about the whole field was taken up with boots, and the volunteers were not done. They had more to put out. Each boot represented a different fallen Soldier. As one person set a boot up, another followed and verified the name of the Soldier it represented. An ID card with the Soldierís name, a photo of the Soldier, their name and unit of assignment upon their death was placed on the boot along with a small American flag. The names were placed in order of their death.
As my memory holds it, the stadium was eerily silent. There were some people there but few if any were running on the track or working out. Itís as if they were paying their respect to the fallen. Some folks had started walking through the display looking for friends and loved ones who were gone but not out of their lives.
I started with the first fallen service member, Sgt. Rodney Releford, and walked along the rows of boots lined up as if in formation, dress-right-dressed and covered down on each other. Each face on the ID cards looked up. Most of the photos were official file photos, devoid of personality but full of pride. Some were candid facial shots beaming with life and vitality.
Not sure why, but I was surprised when I saw a face I recognized, and then another and another. For me this made the display personal and more meaningful. Soldiers I had served with, led and were led by and who helped make me who I am today were with me once more.
I stopped and remembered one Soldier in particular, Sgt. Maj. Mike Stack. He was killed April 11, 2004 when his patrol was ambushed near Baghdad. Long before that day, Mike and I served in 1st Battalion, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment together. He was a platoon sergeant in Company A and with his air of confidence, ease of presence and leadership abilities, he stood out from the rest.
When I was told I was heading to Company A, one of the first things I thought was I got to serve with him. But, as I arrived, Mike started outprocessing for Special Forces.
Eventually, we ended up serving together in SF and the personality I had remembered was still there. I also learned Mike was a deeply religious man and devoted to his large Family. By 2003 I had started distancing myself from the fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq. Soldiers I had served with were deployed, and I was sitting behind a desk at the end of my career. I have no doubt I was jealous of them.
One day I saw a feature article about a Soldier who had been killed as told by a friend of his. For some reason I had missed the name of the fallen Soldier, and as I read it, I started to think I knew this guy. The story was about Mike. Needless to say, that article and his death brought the cost of the wars home to me and it is a feeling I have never forgotten.
As I stood there looking at Mikeís boot, I knew he was gone but his legacy was alive and well in his Family and in the hundreds of Soldiers he taught, developed and led. I was really lucky to have served with him and to have served with the others who now surround him in Hedrick Stadium
On May 19, SOS will again set up the display of boots in Hedrick Stadium. It will last through the weekend and come down after the 82nd Airborneís division run passes by it.