Dear Ms. Warrick,
First of all please accept my apologies for the tardiness of this email, but I have recently retired from the US Air Force (USAF) and am currently itinerant making my way across the country to my new assignment in Washington, DC.
Over the recent Memorial Day weekend I was blessed to be visiting my brother and his family; one of his children (my niece Kristen Abbott of whom I am very proud) is a teacher at your school. She made us aware of the “Arlington Project” and encouraged my family to stop by your school and make a visit.
On the very beautiful Saturday morning of Memorial Day weekend we were able to make a visit to the “Arlington Project,” and I shall forever remain moved and grateful to the students and staff of your school that made such a poignant and sacred time of reflection and thanks possible for me and for the wider South Sound community.
I had the privilege of serving our Nation in the Armed Forces for almost 24 years; first as an enlisted Air Traffic Controller, and later as a Chaplain-Officer in the USAF. I retired 1 Jan 11 as a Chaplain, Lieutenant Colonel. During my years of service I was inspired to serve the women and men of our Armed Forces (as well as other US Government agencies and civilian organizations) in many disparate locations and assignments around the world. I deployed many times, with multiple tours of duty in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq. As a peculiarity of my role, I was more often assigned to US Marine Corps (USMC), US Army (USA) and/or Coalition ground forces than to USAF units.
Humbled as I am to have served with so many remarkable men and women, both military and civilian, from many different lands and peoples, I know that I have been changed in challenging ways that will remain with me for the rest of my life.
I must say that when Kristen told me of the “Arlington Project”, I thought to myself, “what a wonderful and noteworthy enterprise,” but I was not prepared for what I found or felt.
That morning of our visit was bright, beautiful and calm…with a light breeze blowing over the front lawn of your school. The flags ruffled so gently and the expanse of thousands of memorials (made so much more personal by the handwritten inscriptions) caught me off-guard. The first memorial I read happened to be of SrA Cunningham, killed in Afghanistan, and for whom the USAF “base” at Bagram AB is named. Because of the extreme care and attention of your staff and students in organizing the placement of the memorials I quickly realized that I would be able to “visit” those with whom I had served, who paid the ultimate price for our freedom, and for some…those I had been with when they died…holding their hands, offering words of prayer, comfort, blessing or even silence…I would be able to remember.
My words today pale in comparison to the emotions of gratitude, sadness and joy I experienced that morning. It was a very personal, cathartic and sacred moment for me during a time of significant transition in my own life.
So many other women and men have offered so much more than I for the defense of our freedoms, both abroad and in our homeland, striving to make our world a better place, offering countless thousands of people an opportunity for real peace and self-determination. I am aware that these men and women have lived in our country and in many far away lands for generations…I am at times overwhelmed by the human spirit that can manifest the desire for service to others at such a great cost to itself. These are truly our heroes. Their lives stand in contradiction to greed and ego-centrism; they represent the best of who we can all be. Yet heroes are not always far away, they are close at hand, they are our teachers, administrators, coaches, friends and strangers too. They are our police officers, fire fighters, and those engaged in every form of government and public service. They are our poor, who so very often, because of the opportunities provided in our Nation, rise to unimaginable heights of service and accomplishment.
From one humble Veteran, to you at Clover Park High School, I offer my humble gratitude. I hope that you have heard from hundreds of people who like myself and through your efforts were enabled, to say thank-you on a beautiful, peaceful morning, in a magnificent and profound setting, to God, my fellow citizens, and to so many women and men in near and distant lands that I feel so indebted to for my life and freedom.
I know that my parents (like millions of others), who served these same freedoms during World War II and Korea, would be so proud to know that their sacrifice was not in vain, but that there are heroes like you at Clover Park High School that continue to carry the torch of freedom and of service and sacrifice.
Fr Kerry M. Abbott