Smyrna, GA. Memorial Day Speech by Grant McGarry

Memorial Day Speech – 5/25/15

Good Morning Everybody.

I would like to thank the members of the Smyrna Veterans Committee, the American Legion Post 160 and the Veterans Memorial Association of Smyrna for inviting me to speak at such an amazing event.  It is a true honor to have this opportunity on Memorial Day.

First, Memorial Day is not to be confused with Veterans Day.  Memorial Day is a day of remembering the men and women who died while serving.

Memorial Day originated as Decoration Day after the Civil War when an organization of Union Veterans established it as a time for the nation to decorate the graves of the war dead with flowers. From 1775 to present America has lost over 664,440 men and women in combat.  When you add these Americans to lives lost due to complications from wounds, diseases and illnesses of war at a later date, America has lost 1,354,664 Men and Women.

Here are some but not all conflicts and wars America has fought in and the price to earn and preserve our freedom..

291,557 Americans were killed in combat in World War 2

33,686 Americans were killed in combat in the Korean War

47,424 Americans were killed in combat in the Vietnam War

18 Americans were killed in combat in the Invasion of Grenada

23 Americans were killed in combat in the Invasion of Panama

29 Americans were killed in combat in Somalia

1,742 Americans were killed in combat in Afghanistan

3,527 Americans were killed in combat in Iraq

Some say the worst wound of war is to be forgotten.

So with this opportunity I would like take a moment of silence to reflect and remember the soldiers, sailors, airmen, coast guardsmen and marines that have paid the ultimate sacrifice so that we may live a life of freedom.

Pause..

That was one minute of your life that you gave them when they gave all.

Here is a little about me and my story.

I was a senior in high school on 9/11 and I watched the twin towers fall in my 2nd period Criminal Justice class. It impacted me and I was compelled to do something about it. So I went home that day and told my mom I was joining the military.

She looked at me with a look that was somewhat ok with my decision but asked I go to college first. Then she followed up and said, “After College you can do whatever you want”.

Unlike most of the decisions I made in my youth I actually listened to my mom and went to college.

A few years later I was in my senior year at the University of Alabama when I realized that I was not happy and something was missing in my life.

As I was preparing to graduate and start a new chapter in my life with a business degree it became obvious to me that I had reached an interesting place in my life.  I found myself in a situation that I didn’t want to be in.  I was not excited to start a career in a cubicle crunching numbers or selling widgets.  Like most young men and women I reached this point in my life because I was doing what was expected of me by my parents influence.

As I started to process this information I had an outer body experience when I finally realized I was not living my own life.  Immediately I took action and started to plan my next move.  I didn’t seek advice from anyone because I wanted take charge of my own destiny.

I had always thought about joining the military and knew I would be a great fit so I went about this thought quietly.  I was very intrigued and inspired by Pat Tillman’s story and coincidently I knew of a guy attending Alabama who was also an Army Ranger.  As I continued to think about joining the military I reached out to him with questions.  I quickly noticed there was something about him that I envied.  It was the way he stood and his self-confidence.

A few days later after staying up late studying for a Finance test I woke up early to get coffee on my way to the test.  The coffee shop was called Bad Ass Coffee.  As I waited for my order I watched the news and saw a quick shot of some action in Iraq with bombs and gun fire going on in an Iraq city I’d never heard of.  As I thought to myself about the military a feeling came over me that moved me.  I realized I hadn’t done anything for my country and that it was time to do what I thought was not only cool but honorable.  With this feeling of freedom I decided right then and there that I was joining the military.  I left the coffee shop and went to class and took my test.  With the war in Iraq still on my mind I drove to the Army recruiting station and walked in and asked the recruiter for the hardest thing he’s got.  He said, “I have an Army Ranger contract or an SF contract”.  I said, “What’s the difference”?  He said, “If you want to be hardcore and kill bad guys be an Army Ranger”.  I said, “Great! Sign me up”.

The recruiter said, “Right now”. I said, “Yea before I change my mind”.

Must have been that Bad Ass Coffee.

After starting the process to enlist in the Army I drove home and it felt as though a thousand pounds had been lifted off of my shoulders.  I was finally doing what I wanted to do and it felt great. Before going home I stopped at a bookstore and bought a book called “To be an Army Ranger”.

I went home and read the entire book that night.  The next morning I woke up threw all my books in my back pack and ran to class.  My lifestyle changed dramatically.  My friends no longer found me in the bars.  Instead I was either running to class or at the gym doing pushups, pull ups and sit ups.  When I ran into friends they asked why I would do such a thing; especially right before I graduate.  Some were saying don’t do it and others were not surprised.  There comments were just noise to me. I didn’t care what anyone had to say.  I had a goal and it was to become an Army Ranger.

After finishing up my degree a few months later I shipped off to basic training and never looked back.  I was full of piss and vinegar and chomping at the bits to get over to Iraq.  In just 2 months after arriving at the 1st Ranger Battalion I finally got my wish and deployed to Iraq.  After three successful deployments to Iraq I deployed to Afghanistan as a team leader and was opened up to an entirely different style of fighting.  Instead of carrying the usual 4 mags and a grenade on a mission like in Iraq I found myself carrying 7-9 mags of ammo and multiple types of grenades.

As we continued to surge in Afghanistan my platoon deployed in the summer of 2010 to Jalalabad Afghanistan for my second Afghanistan deployment.  It was Taliban hunting season and we were getting after it almost every night.  By this time I had over 300 direct action raid missions under my belt and was the senior team leader in the platoon when intelligence located a high valued target in the Pech Valley of the Kunar Province.

The HVT was a Salafist commander and the leader of the Nuristan fighters, a sub network of the Taliban. The HVT was known for being an expert with IED’s, rocket propelled grenades and small arms attacks and always traveled with a PSD team of 2-3 armed men.  He was directly linked to events responsible for killing and wounding American soldiers and needed to be captured or killed so that a company of soldier’s in the 101st Airborne operating out of the Pech Valley would be able to maintain operations in the Kunar Province.

After meticulous planning we flew into the Pech Valley and on the night of August the 18th and 19th.  The mission to capture or kill this specific HVT was a GO.  As cloud cover rolled in we lost our ISR platform and no longer had protection from above.  We still had each other but lost a critical element that aided in our own protection.  As my squad climbed onto a second story roof top preparing to make entry through a door an all-out gun fight erupted from directly above us on the 3rd story rooftop. Grenades and small arms fire were pouring down on us.

Immediately Ranger’s Ethan Gronbeck and Chris Wright were wounded.  As the shrapnel from the grenades and AK-47 rounds were flying everywhere I could here Chris screaming I’m hit, I’m hit.

Despite the two casualties there was a threat that needed to be eliminated, collectively as a squad we regained fire superiority and killed the HVT and his two man PSD element and pulled Chris to a safer place to treat his wounds.

What felt like an eternity only lasted a few minutes but I replay this moment over and over in my head everyday thinking about what I could have done better to protect Chris and Ethan.

Chris Wright died a few hours later in surgery.

Chris Wright was an amazing warrior and was cut from the same cloth as the warriors that scouted with Washington, fought shoulder to shoulder with Jackson, braved the redoubt with Grant, charged the beach at Normandy and climbed the cliffs at Pointe Du Hoc.

Chris Wright was a warrior that did not fight for himself or glory he fought for his brothers to his left and right.  Even as Chris laid dying on the battlefield in overwhelming pain he never felt sorry for himself.  It still amazes me to this day how mentally tough Chris Wright was and the only thing I can think of is that he spent his last moments in strength, confidence and honor because he was with his brothers to the end and he knew he had never let anyone down.

Chris Wright is a true American hero that lived the life that others wouldn’t dare volunteer for so that Americans may live a life in peace.  Before joining the Army Chris’s mom asked him, “Why do you want to join the Army?” Chris said, “So that I can keep my brothers safe.”

Let it not be forgotten that the price of Specialist Christopher Wright’s life and the other 1,354,663 lives lost since 1775 is the cost of our Country’s freedom today.

It is best said by Colonel William O. Darby..

We the living Ranger, will never forget our fallen comrades.  They and the ideas for which they fought will remain ever-present among us.  For we fully understand the extent of their heroic sacrifices, we will carry their spirit with us into all walks of life.  Into all corners of America our hearts join together in sorrow for their loss but also our hearts swell with pride to have fought alongside such valiant men.  They will never be considered dead for they live with us in spirit.

Because of the wonderful lives lost during my time as a Ranger I have been driven to a greater cause and in memory of my brothers as a tribute to honor these men I have dedicated my life to a greater good on behalf of other Rangers to help facilitate a successful transition for Army Ranger veterans from active military service to a civilian life filled with hope and purpose.

Rangers Lead the Way!

Thank you.

Grant McGarry

 

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