Tuesday, November 24, 2009
In memory: Marine’s Thanksgiving note
By Gene Wojiechowski
The e-mail arrived in my ESPN inbox on Friday at 9:32 a.m. It was there among the handful of Russian spam messages, our in-house research notes, expense report statements and dozens of e-mails from Bill Belichick supporters, angry Mark McGwire defenders, as well as one persistent Texas Longhorn fan who insists there’s a Worldwide Leader conspiracy against quarterback Colt McCoy.
From: Susan Kroner
Subject: RE: A Thanksgiving message from Tony Wojciechowski
I am not sure if you remember me. My nephew, Staff Sgt. Mark A. Wojciechowski (“Tony Wojo”), was killed in Al Anbar Province, Iraq, on April 30, 2009.
Remember? I’ll always remember Susan and her nephew, Tony Wojo, the 25-year-old Marine from Union Township, Ohio, who served two tours of duty before his death almost seven months ago. His remains were returned home in early May and the entire procession route — from Cincinnati’s Lunken Airport to the E.C. Nurre Funeral Home in Amelia, Ohio — was lined with people honoring the Marine’s sacrifice.
I wrote about it then and still get choked up thinking about a stranger who shares the same last name and whose family, like so many families who have lost loved ones in these wars, approaches the holiday season with a hole in their hearts.
I came across this e-mail that Tony sent to his family and friends at Thanksgiving time in 2006 while he was stationed in Japan and was not able to come home to share the holiday with us. His mother has re-sent this to many of his friends to remind them what Thanksgiving meant to Tony.
His letter was attached below Susan’s note. I read it and asked the family for permission to reprint it here:
From: Mark Wojciechowski
Sent: Sunday, Nov. 19, 2006
Thanksgiving often passes to some as another holiday: a day of food, family and football, with little more than just tradition and routine setting the tone. To some, it reminds them of the “American Heritage,” the whole pilgrims came, made peace with the Indians, shared a harvest together — and we still celebrate that today.
Thanksgiving is also, to most, a time to give thanks to the Lord, from which all things are made possible and whom without, there would be nothing to be thankful or unthankful for.
Perhaps it is now, [as] I am growing older and have a newfound respect for simpler and less tangible things, or the fact that I am unable to be where I would like to be sometimes, [that] I can describe what Thanksgiving means to me.
Obviously, Thanksgiving means being thankful for the things you have, but what does that include? I am thankful for being blessed with a wonderful family, a family that supports me in every way and is always there for me, even though I try not to need them as much as I probably should. I am thankful for health and well-being, not only my own, but the health and well-being of those around me which I love.
I am thankful for the society we live in and the comforts we take for granted each and every day. Although many will think our system is far from perfect, at least we can rest our heads each night without even so much as a remote worry of bombs being dropped, bullets being shot or poverty in our future.
Of all of the things I am thankful for, none of them would be as rich as they are without giving proper thanks to all of those who have given the ultimate sacrifice, in wars past and present, to give me the liberty and freedom.
Even though I am serving in the military and will be spending this holiday away from my home and my family, I am thankful for all of my brethren — the troops that are currently serving in harm’s way. Not only are they away from their families, but they won’t even have the pleasure of safety or rest this holiday weekend.
I hope you have a happy and safe holiday. After all, I think being together is one of the things people overlook. It doesn’t mean as much until you can’t have it.
As for me, my holiday will be just fine. I will be surrounded by a great group of guys, which I have come to love as brothers.
I will talk to you all soon. I love you.
Wojciechowski was deployed to Iraq from Japan. He later returned to Camp Pendleton, Calif., before a second deployment to Iraq this past February. He was killed in action, according to the Department of Defense, “while supporting combat operations.”
Wrote Susan in her e-mail:
There are numerous people, including a Marine unit stationed in Iraq, who will be reading [Tony’s letter] at their dinner table this Thanksgiving.
And one in Wheaton, Ill., too. It’s the least I can do.
Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.