Remembering heroes on Memorial Day

To defend our nation, soldiers leave behind family members, friends, spouses, and sometimes children. One of the sad realities of warfare is that some soldiers don’t come back.

This year, Arizonans have fresh memories of some of our finest, lost in Iraq. We remember Marine Sgt. Fernando Padilla-Ramirez of San Luis, Pfc. Lori Piestewa of Tuba City, Lance Cpl. Michael Williams of Phoenix, Navy Lt. Nathan D. White of Mesa, Marine Sgt. Bradley Korthaus, and Marine Maj. Jay T. Aubin, a Marine Corps instructor in Yuma.

I’d like to tell you about them.

Sgt. Fernando Padilla-Ramirez, stationed at the Marine Wing Support Squadron 371 at Marine Corps Air Station in Yuma, had been a Marine since he was a teenager and was in his second tour of duty. He left behind one 5-year-old son when he was sent to Iraq. A second son was born just five days after he departed. Fernando was killed while conducting convoy operations near Nasiriyah, Iraq.

Pfc. Lori Piestewa was a Hopi whose father served in Vietnam and whose grandfather fought in World War I. She was one of the few American Indian women in the military. Lori was killed with other soldiers in the 507th Maintenance Company, a mechanical unit ambushed by Iraqi troops on March 23. Her service and sacrifice aptly highlight the proud and important role Native Americans have played in protecting and defending the United States. She will be long remembered in Arizona.

Lance Cpl. Michael Williams joined the Marines after the 9-11 attacks, leaving his successful flooring business to his brother. Michael wanted “to make a difference, to be part of something,” his fiancée, Heather, told the Arizona Republic. He actually proposed to her while aboard a ship heading to Kuwait. Michael died fighting in one of the toughest battles in the Iraq War.

Sgt. Bradley Korthaus drowned in the Saddam Canal in southeast Iraq. According to reports, Bradley was sent with three other Marines to get information on enemy positions when they came under fire. He was trying to save another Marine’s life when he disappeared in the water. Bradley was the latest in a long line of soldiers in his family. His father was a Vietnam veteran. His grandpa, Orville -- who lives in Mesa -- parachuted into occupied France just before D-Day and was later held in a boxcar for more than a month as a prisoner of the Nazis. Bradley Korthaus is remembered by his grandfather as the family’s “true hero.” Actually, they both are.

Maj. Jay T. Aubin was one of the first casualties of the Iraq war. He died with 11 other Marines when his aircraft crashed in Kuwait. A helicopter instructor based in Yuma, Jay was nicknamed “Sweet Pea” because he was so kind to others. He leaves behind a wife and two children. Maj. Aubin was actually a Marine captain when he died, but had been scheduled for a promotion when he returned to Yuma. President Bush promoted him posthumously.

Lt. Nathan D. White, of Mesa, was born in Texas, attended BYU, and served as a missionary in Japan. His sister told a local paper that Nathan “just had the nicest personality. There wasn't anyone who knew him that didn't like him.” A pilot remembered as being pretty much born to fly, Nathan was shot down in his F/A-18C Hornet fighter jet by friendly fire over Iraq. “He was a man who lived his dream,” his family said. “ He died defending this country.”

I will think of each of these heroes, their families, and their loved ones this Memorial Day. I know you will do the same. The six fallen soldiers I mentioned here represent millions of others who have risked their lives for all of us and continue to do so today.

Our country offers oppressed people around the world the hope of a better life. But we must always bear in mind that America is able to be a strong defender of freedom because our veterans have been strong defenders of America. I am proud of, and humbled by, their service.

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