Yet, even in victory war’s aftermath can be so very bittersweet.
Some 170 Army Tennessee National Guardsmen serving in the 252nd Military Police Company headquartered in Cleveland today attest to the inexplicable twists and turns that await all who travel this journey called life.
In a Sunday afternoon “Freedom Salute” ceremony at Westwood Baptist Church that had been intended as a recognition of the 252nd, its pivotal role in the Iraqi conflict and the honoring of its courageous soldiers — all of whom survived the war without casualty — the event took a somber note with the remembrance of one of its own, Spc. Joshua Meeks who died only hours earlier in a shooting accident at his home.
Spc. Meeks, a Whitwell resident, withstood the daily rigors and awaiting perils of 10 months of combat duty training Iraqi police outside Baghdad. He served as a machine gunner on vehicle and on foot patrols in Wasit Province, east of Iraq’s capital city.
He survived enemy attacks.
He helped to secure the territory to which he was assigned.
He successfully trained Iraqi police who were awaiting strategic assignments for the improved internal security of their country, and the protection of their people.
Like his fellow soldiers in the 252nd, Spc. Meeks fought bravely. He served courageously. And he returned home safely following his lengthy deployment.
Tragedy struck on the eve of his company’s military recognition.
While cleaning a new 9 mm pistol at his home late Saturday night, he died from a single discharge to the head. Witnesses, some of whom were his 252nd buddies who were preparing for the military salute the following day, reported the shooting to be an accident. It was later confirmed by Marion County Sheriff Ronnie “Bo” Burnett, as well as the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and the county medical examiner.
Published reports quoted Sheriff Burnett as citing, “He was cleaning the gun at a table and evidently didn’t know there was still one (bullet) in the chamber.”
The Sunday ceremony took place as scheduled.
Spc. Meeks would have been among the living honorees.
We are told it was a ceremony he was anticipating with great excitement as were his fellow soldiers.
Surely, the group had every reason to feel good about the ceremony because of their own accomplishments in the field. The soldiers accounted for nine Bronze Stars, two Meritorious Service Medals, 110 Army Commendation Medals, 26 Army Achievement Medals and 16 Combat Action Badges. While in-country, the 252nd trained six districts of Iraqi police.
The commemoration’s most bittersweet moment came when Spc. Meeks’ widow, Kimberly, accepted a banner depicting a map of Iraq and branch of service insignia. Spc. Meeks and his wife had just married in August.
Even in the wake of tragedy, Brig. Gen. Ike Osborne, assistant adjutant general to the Army Tennessee National Guard, offered reassurance to the soldiers telling them of their Iraqi deployment, “You soldiers are part of a few who can say, ‘I was there. I didn’t stand on the sidelines and discuss the pros and cons.’ Anyone can talk, but the majority will do nothing about it.”
Life is short.
It offers no guarantees.
Especially to those in uniform.
We hold no answers to the riddles of fate, but we cling to this belief.
All soldiers will die.
But in spirit they will live forever.
In the hearts, in the minds and in the prayers of those who loved them.