His name was Josh Byers, and he was a captain. He served in Iraq, part of a group out of Fort Carson, Colorado. On July 23, 2003, he was killed by a bomb that exploded under his Humvee. His last words were “Keep moving forward.” It was his mother’s birthday.
The former Army Ranger and paratrooper was, by all accounts, a pretty good guy. He once went into a minefield to retrieve two young children who went in to gather firewood, as the pair was unaware of the danger all around them. Another time, he threw himself upon a fellow captain, knocking him to the ground while shrapnel flew all around them. To entertain his fellow soldiers on Independence Day, he organized chicken races.
Like many who perished in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom, he was married. He was a soldier’s soldier, having been accepted at all the military academies. He had two loving parents, who were Baptist missionaries in Guam; before being deployed, he was lay leader himself.
During the 2012 Memorial Day, I was in Nashville, visiting my folks. I read about the 5K race that was scheduled for Josh Byers the day before, saw his story, and was game for a run, even though the summer is considered “off season” for me (I run better in the cold than in the heat). And it was a hot and humid day, with a course that didn’t give you a minute in the shade. But I did it anyway, even though I knew that the elements would hurt my running time.
My mom offered to drive me to the event, even though I had my car with me and was capable of navigating Nashville traffic. This was significant because (a) my mom almost never attended any of my races before, and (b) my mom is very anti-war.
The event featured lots of soldiers, local law enforcement, firefighters, etc. There were musicians, food and lots of runners and spectators, despite the weather. Josh’s heartbroken parents addressed the crowd as best they could. Two brothers, who lived in Nashville, were there as well.
Later during the race, I was chugging along past the halfway point, when Josh’s dad spotted me, or more accurately, my T-shirt. I was sporting my “Wounded Warrior” T-shirt from a Troup County High School fundraiser for that cause, which took place in LaGrange a few years ago. To my surprise, he ran right out onto the course, shook my hand vigorously, and gasped “Thank you … thank you so much.”
I have to admit I felt a little as though I didn’t deserve the praise. I haven’t served in the military. I’m certainly not a wounded warrior. But I don’t think that’s why he ran out on the course. He just appreciated that I would care enough to help the wounded warriors, in my own small way. And I hope to be healthy enough to run it again this Memorial Day.
I’m not sure what you’re planning for Memorial Day. Maybe it’s a visit to a gravesite, a BBQ with the family, or a well-deserved day of rest. But think about what you can do to honor those wonderful folks like Josh Byers, who gave his life – and even risked it for a pair of Iraqi kids earlier in the conflict – for you, even if it’s just an hour. I don’t think your sacrifice will be missed.
John A. Tures is a professor of political science at LaGrange College.