Comrades, friends and family gathered in Arlington National Cemetery to honor military medical personnel lost during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Photo by Craig Roberts

A tribute to fallen military medical personnel

In a clear deviation from his script, Army Chaplain Mark Worrell made a call during his prayer for “that sun that’s been poking through the clouds to stay a little longer.” But the chaplain’s invocation, and the thoughts of those before him, turned quickly from the blustery weather to being focused on the nurses, doctors, corpsmen and medics who have fallen during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It was in tribute to those 262 individuals – each one lauded as a “Warrior, Healer, Hero” – that compatriots, friends and family members gathered March 28 on a cold hilltop at Arlington National Cemetery in remembrance.

Volunteers from the Legion's Washington office and the Departments of Maryland and Virginia served as ushers during the Remembrance Ceremony Dedicated to Fallen Military Medical Personnel. This was the third year the Department of Defense Military Health System (MHS) has staged such an event. “It was a true honor to be there,” said the man who organized the detail, Deputy Director Joe Grassi of the Legion’s National Defense & Foreign Relations Division.

Speakers who paid tribute to the fallen honorees included Assistant Secretary of Defense Dr. Jonathan Woodson, Navy Commander and combat veteran Dr. Richard Jadick and Command Sergeant Major Donna Brock, an OIF/OEF (Operation Iraqi Freedom/Operation Enduring Freedom) Army combat medic.

A particularly heartfelt ovation was given to another speaker, U.S. Army Captain Ivan Castro. Though blinded by shrapnel during a 2006 mortar attack in Iraq, Castro continues to serve as the Headquarters Company Commander at the Special Operations Recruiting Battalion at Fort Bragg, N.C., and as a mentor for injured servicemembers and their families. He is the Army’s only blind Special Forces officer.

A distinguished audience member who could identify with the challenges facing Castro was Medal of Honor recipient Thomas G. Kelley, who had traveled from his home near Boston to witness the tribute. A “Brown Water Navy” veteran of the Vietnam War, Kelley lost an eye during a rocket attack on his convoy in 1969. Like Castro, he remained in service despite his injuries, retiring in 1990.

Though valued heroes themselves, Castro and Kelley joined the gathering on a cold and windy Virginia hilltop to recognize the incalculable worth of the sacrifices made by those who fell while caring for their comrades.