South-central Kansans and all Americans have the luxury of living without fear, safe in the knowledge that brave, skilled men and women are dedicated to our protection. Because they are vigilant around the world, we are not only free but also carefree.
Recent days have brought reminders of the risks that these guardians face daily, and our responsibility to pay somber tribute to their service and — too often — their ultimate sacrifice.
The community learned that 26-year-old Army Sgt. Justin A. Officer died Sept. 29 of injuries suffered in Afghanistan when insurgents attacked his unit with an improvised explosive device. He had lived in Wichita with his family from 1999 to 2003 and later moved back before enlisting in March 2004. He deployed to Afghanistan by choice after two tours in Iraq, telling his father he believed he could help the new members of his unit and perhaps save their lives.
Last month brought news that 35-year-old Army Capt. Jason T. McMahon of Mulvane, who led a unit that disabled explosive devices in Iraq and Afghanistan, died Sept. 5 after being shot by insurgents in Jalahabad. “Not a lot of people get to do in life what they’re passionate about. And he was doing exactly what he wanted to do,” family friend Brad Malm told the Salina Journal about McMahon, a 14-year military veteran who had attended schools in Lindsborg, Phillipsburg and Brewster growing up.
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Early in September, the Army announced that Staff Sgt. Vinson “Trinity” B. Adkinson III, 26, a graduate of Chaparral High School in Harper County, died Aug. 31 when an improvised explosive device blew up near his vehicle in Logar province. He had served three tours in Iraq and was on his second in Afghanistan, having told his grandmother that he needed to go back so that Afghans could have peace in their lives.
Though it hardly tempers the tragedy of these losses, it was good to learn that the community may soon give such fallen warriors their due. A project to build an Operation Freedom Memorial in John S. Stevens Veterans Memorial Park at Second and Greenway is well under way, with a final design and a fundraising goal of at least $200,000. The memorial will honor Kansans who served in Desert Storm, Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom, helping ensure that future generations will know about the local toll of these defining conflicts. To learn more, go to the website www.ofm-ks.com. To help, mail contributions to Operation Freedom Memorial Foundation Inc., P.O. Box 782414, Wichita, KS 67278.
Earlier this year, Anita Dixon told The Eagle that she got the idea for the Wichita memorial when she visited the park about a year after her son, Sgt. Evan Parker of South Haven, died in the Iraq war in 2005. “I’m doing this for everybody in the state, for every single soldier that was lost, for every soldier that served,” she said.
Everybody in the region should help her effort, so all of those lost in these conflicts can be honored with a fitting memorial.