Cody Childers had a childhood dream of serving in the United States Marine Corps and as a young high school senior, he courageously took the first steps towards making his dream a reality; he joined the delayed entry program at Grassfield High School in Chesapeake, which allows young men and women to make an early commitment to becoming Marines. In 2009, Cody graduated bootcamp and, soon after, he attended the School of Infantry at Camp Geiger. In an answer to the call of duty, he said goodbye to his family and friends and left the United States as Lance Corporal Cody Childers bound for Afghanistan on a mission to serve his country. He loved his country and he was eager to give his all.
And give his all he did.
Several months later, at only 19 years old, Cody’s body was returned home to Dover Air Force base and escorted to his final resting place in Arlington National Cemetery. Aug. 20, marked the one year anniversary of Cody’s death in the Helmand province of Afghanistan.
Last year, I spoke at Cody’s funeral. My voice broke as I spoke because my heart was broken for Cody and his family. I looked his mother in the eye and shook his father’s hand. I thanked them for their son’s sacrifice. They were gracious, although I know no words will ever be able to repay them for a loss of such magnitude. Yet, even in the face of such tremendous loss, the Childers have considered it their honor to continue to support those service men and women who proudly serve as Cody did.
Cody’s mother has compiled and written a book to pay tribute to her son and to provide comfort for others who have also lost loved ones in the line of duty. Together, his parents have sent, in the past year, over 800 care packages to Marines who are serving our nation overseas. The Childers are an inspiration to not only those who have experienced the loss of a service member, but to anyone who has lost a loved one. This family is, in fact, an inspiration to everyone who has the opportunity to meet them and witness firsthand their strength, pride and commitment.
This week, I had the opportunity to be with the Childers family and to shake their hands once again. Cody was receiving the Patriot Award from the Civilian Marksmanship Program, which honors a selected veteran – a “hometown hero” – who has demonstrated valor in military service abroad. The award seeks to bring the lessons of our nation’s veterans’ courage and sacrifice to young people across the country. I submitted Cody’s name for consideration of this award unaware that the award had never been given posthumously. The Director of the program said that when the Board of Directors read Cody’s story, the decision was unanimous for him to receive the award. So Cody Childers became the first service member to receive the award posthumously.
The ceremony was simple. There were no media cameras. The audience was not large. There were no cannons or fanfare. It took place in my Chesapeake office, not in a great hall before thousands of people.
But it was powerful in that it was a poignant reminder of Cody’s service to our nation. It was a culmination of a year of grieving and heartbreak and courage. It was also a reminder that we must not and will not forget to honor and remember those that serve this country – particularly those that paid the ultimate price for our freedom. For Cody’s parents, family and friends, and for me, there was no other news story this week more important than the young man we honored at that ceremony.
Sometimes the most important news story of the week is not covered on national television or found on the front page of a newspaper. Sometimes the most important news story is one of relationship, milestone, and sacrifice: The mother who puts her child on the Kindergarten school bus for the first time. The parents that wave goodbye to their son as he stands at the door of his new dorm room. The woman who learns her best friend is battling breast cancer. The family whose son is receiving a posthumous award for paying the ultimate sacrifice for his nation at the age of 19. These are the real news stories that make up America.
Let us not forget to take time to thank those who serve; let us not forget to remember those who lost their lives in service; let us not overlook the most important news story of those in our communities. And may the stories of sacrifice around us not go unnoticed.
Thank you, Lance Corporal Cody Childers, for giving your all.