On Oct. 29, 2010, just two months after taking my first full-time job as a reporter, I tackled the hardest assignment of my life and learned the price of freedom in the process.
It was my first soldier’s funeral.
Twenty-eight-year-old Staff Sgt. Kenneth McAninch had been killed in Afghanistan eight days before when insurgents attacked his unit with small-arms fire.
The whole Logansport community mourned his loss at a church in town. I no longer remember what church it was, but I will never forget what happened inside its doors.
The soldier’s four young sons kept running up to their daddy’s casket and hugging it and laying their heads on it – no doubt grappling with the crippling loss and trying to understand what it all meant.
As they huddled around the casket, James Otto’s “Soldiers and Jesus” softly played in the background.
“There’s only two people who’ve ever died for me, laid down their lives just so I could be free,” the country artist sang. “They both went through hell bared crosses and shells, and both got back up again after they fell. They never pick a fight but they’re there to pick up the pieces. God only knows where we’d be without soldiers and Jesus.”
It was a haunting moment – one that still haunts me and weighs heavy on my heart when I hear that song.
Twenty-three months later, almost to the day, I interviewed a Western High School graduate who was paralyzed from the chest down when the mine detection vehicle he was in hit a boulder in the road and flipped violently during a tour in Afghanistan.
Insurgents had put the rock there. It was flanked by IEDs on either side.
Lance Cpl. Zach Nelson spent his 21st birthday lying in a hospital bed alone. Still, he said he felt pretty lucky.