This time last week, I had the solemn honor of attending the memorial service for fallen heroes Technical Sergeant Dale Mathews, Staff Sergeant Afton Ponce, Captain Sean Ruane and Captain Christopher Stover of the 56th Rescue Squadron based at RAF Lakenheath. They had devoted their careers to serving others, and they gave their lives in that pursuit during rescue exercises in Norfolk.
It was a formal military ceremony but it allowed for the families to share stories about the wonderful lives theseairmen had led. It was intensely sad, especially because they had been taken so young.
As I met the families and listened to the stories of those they just lost, I was reminded of the words carved into the British 9-11 memorial right across from my office in Grosvenor Square. In contrast to many of the words on the statues in Grosvenor square, they are not words of action. Instead they are words of reflection for those experiencing intense loss. They don’t attempt to ease the pain, but to explain it in some small way. They are the words of Queen Elizabeth II.
It reads, “Grief is the price we pay for love.” To feel profound grief, one of the most painful things we know, also means that we have loved profoundly, and that we have been profoundly loved.
All of us at the ceremony — and everyone reading this post — have been blessed by the love that inspired theseairmen to serve; by the love that it took to put themselves in danger so that we could be safe; and by the love that it takes to embrace the motto of the 56th Air Rescue Squadron, “That Others May Live.” We all grieve because we have been blessed by their families and friends, whose unconditional love and daily devotion gave these men and women the courage to wake up everyday and live that motto.
But while all of us grieve, it is to them, the families and friends of our fallen heroes, that the memorial speaks. Their grief is almost incomprehensible. But the memorial tells us that it is also a reflection of the love they gave to their bereaved, and how much they were loved in return.
Captain Stover, Captain Ruane, Staff Sergeant Ponce, and Technical Sergeant Mathews will forever live in the memories of so many Americans and Britons. The people of Lakenheath whose outpouring of support does fitting tribute to the world’s greatest alliance that these heroes helped to strengthen; The first responders from the community who are there to help rescue the rescuers and to keep safe those who keep others safe; And the entire 48th Fighter Wing which grieves enormously at the loss of four airmen.
To their families, I offer my deepest condolences. They will never be forgotten.