Since the dawn of civilization, soaring verse and patriotic songs have honored brave citizens who die in service to their country. But this Memorial Day, as Americans pause to commemorate the ultimate sacrifice of so many troops, there is no need to rely on yesterday's poets and composers.
Some of the most poignant tributes to soldiers, sailors and Marines are found in condolences written to their loved ones -- heartfelt notes by friends, relatives, acquaintances, co-workers and grateful strangers. Today we offer a sampling of eulogies posted on the website Legacy.com by average folks paying their respects to those who committed above-average deeds.
While those rememberered here lived in our own community and died in Iraq, we hope the words will inspire readers to pause, reflect and utter their own thanks for all Americans in uniform who have given their lives.
For Army Sgt. Russell Kurtz, 22, of Bethel Park, killed by a roadside bomb in Fallujah, Iraq, on Feb. 11, 2007
"I'll never forget having Russell in my Sunday School class when he was just 5 and the mischievous little grin he often had on his face. It feels like just yesterday. I've read many tributes to him and am so proud of him and the task he undertook to protect MY freedom. He is truly an American Hero." -- Janet Pacich, Bethel Park
"Thank you for sharing your son with this nation. People don't understand what price we pay for freedom. Your son has paid the ultimate sacrifice for his country. I could not let this hour go by and not say thank you." -- Eunice Boston, Anchorage, Alaska
For Marine Capt. Todd M. Siebert, 34, a Franklin Park native killed Feb. 16, 2007, after his armored military vehicle was struck by a projectile in Al Anbar province, Iraq
"We have plans for our children to live long, healthy, happy lives. When something tragic happens, you wonder why. Your son is a hero and made a difference in our world. His life was short-lived, but the time he was with your family will hold the strongest memories and feelings in your heart." -- Annette Tamburro, Pittsburgh
For Marine Staff Sgt. Joseph P. Goodrich, 32, of Westwood, killed by mortar fire July 10, 2005, in western Iraq
"Too many times Americans neglect to think of those willing to give their lives to protect us and keep us safe. The dedication shown by Staff Sgt. Goodrich and his willingness to stand up for what he believed in says a lot for him as both a Marine and a person. Again, thank you, Staff Sgt. Goodrich." -- Sandy Deal, Summersville, W.Va., whose fiance, Marine Cpt. Bryan J. Richardson, also was killed in Iraq
One of the most moving tributes was written by Staff Sgt. Goodrich himself, in what Legacy.com said was his last letter to his wife Amy. In describing his childhood experience of visiting the graves of veterans, he wrote, "Looking at all the headstones with flags in front of them, I started thinking about who they were, how they lived, how they died and what they did for me. I swore to myself that I would not let them down. They sacrificed and gave to me something that I could never repay, freedom."
He is among the thousands who did repay that debt, and America is forever grateful.