There are far fewer Americans in harm’s way today than there were a decade ago. For that we are grateful. But we mustn’t forget that America still has thousands of men and women serving overseas to protect innocent people all over the world.
Their work never stops being dangerous. We are reminded of that every time we learn of an American casualty.
On Memorial Day, we mourn the deaths of military members who died in service to our country. Their deaths have a profound effect on their families, neighbors and communities. But the rest of us lose, too. This comes to mind as we remember active military members from Illinois who died in the last year — young people who seemed to have endless possibilities ahead of them.
Army Pfc. Tyler R. Iubelt, 20, of downstate Tamaroa, was the youngest of the men from Illinois who died in the service of their country since last Memorial Day. He was killed on Nov. 12 by an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan, 18 months after graduating from Pinckneyville High School.
Known to be mischievous in high school, he was quickly growing into a confident adult. He wanted to be a leader and prove to himself and his tight-knit community that he “could do good,” his wife, Shelby, told us. “He was so happy to be a part of something bigger than himself and everyone else. He couldn’t have been more proud of where he was in life.”
For Army Sgt. Joshua P. Rodgers, 22, of Bloomington, it wasn’t enough to enlist in the military after high school. He had the Army Rangers specifically in mind. He died on April 27 in Afghanistan during a raid of an Islamic State compound.
“It was something that he really talked about the spring of his senior year,” Normal Community High School assistant football coach Bryan Thomas, who also coached Rodgers in track, told the Chicago Tribune. “Even some of the football coaches helped him get some of the (physical) training done because he was really excited about the test.”
Rodgers was a Ranger team leader on his third deployment to Afghanistan.
Navy Chief Special Warfare Operator William “Ryan” Owens, 36, of Peoria, was killed in Yemen on Jan. 29 during a raid against al-Qaida, the first such raid authorized by President Donald Trump. Friends told reporters that since his freshman year at Illinois Valley Central High School, Owens talked of becoming a Navy SEAL. And he did it with enormous success. He served three presidents, was deployed 12 times and earned numerous awards, including a Bronze Star and Silver Star.
“He always talked about the greatest thing he could do was serve his country,” friend Cody Jackson told the Chicago Tribune.
Army Staff Sgt. Christopher A. Wilbur, 36, who grew up in Granite City near St. Louis, suffered a fatal non-combat-related injury Aug. 12 in Afghanistan. He was an indirect fire infantryman and member of the mortar squad with a long list of honors — almost two dozen — since his enlistment in 2005. At the time of his death, the Defense Department said an investigation of the incident that led to his death was pending. The Army provided no other details last week.
Army Sgt. Douglas J. Riney, 26, of Fairview, earned more than a dozen honors in the four years he served in the Army, but he was also beloved down in Fairview for being a volunteer firefighter. He died Oct. 19 in Afghanistan of wounds from an encounter with enemy forces. He earned more than a dozen honors in the four years he served.
On May 17, the state Legislature passed a resolution designating the section of Illinois Route 78 from Canton to Farmington as Sgt. Douglas Riney Memorial Highway. In so doing, state Rep. Mike Unes of East Peoria summed up Riney’s commitment to service when he said the honor was for all Riney had done and for “all the things that he certainly would have done for us but will never get the chance to do.”
Those words also ring true of the others who gave their lives in service. They had children to raise, holidays to cherish with family and communities to serve.
We remember them on this Memorial Day. We thank them every day.
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