The Big 10 with Jeff D'Alessio, May 26, 2019

The Big 10 with Jeff D'Alessio, May 26, 2019

On this Memorial Day Eve, we asked those who've served: Who's the first person you'll be thinking about Monday and what would you tell a stranger about their story of sacrifice?

U.S. senator from Illinois, Iraq War veteran, former Army lieutenant colonel

"I think about BRIAN SLAVENAS, who was a first lieutenant in the Illinois National Guard and flew helicopters out of the unit based in Peoria.

"Brian and I were young officers who served at the same time. He and his crew were killed when their CH-47 Chinook helicopter was shot down in 2003 near Fallujah, Iraq.

"For me, Memorial Day is about honoring the fallen and the guys from the Illinois National Guard like Brian who never made it home. It's about honoring the people who continue to serve time and again, giving everything in defense of our country.

"And it's about honoring the families who continue to send their sons and daughters to stand up for this country."

UI grad turned Navy captain, NASA astronaut

"The first person I'll think of is my astronaut classmate, RICK HUSBAND, along with my other classmate, Mike Anderson, and my former Navy flight surgeon and later astronaut, Dave Brown.

"They perished along with another classmate of mine, Kulpna Chawla, and Navy pilot Willy McCool, neighbor Lauren Clark and Ilan Ramon when Columbia broke up during re-entry over Texas.

"Rick was a special friend, kind and loyal to all, with a deep faith both in God and in his fellow man. He along with his crew knew the danger but accepted the risk as part of our efforts to establish humanity as a space faring species.

"I am dedicated to continuing to work to advance our capabilities in space in his memory so that as we return to the moon, we carry the spirit and heart of the people like Rick, who sacrificed all as inspiration for achieving that dream."

Clint Eastwood cast the Navy SEAL veteran to play himself in 'American Sniper'

"MARC LEE is the first service member I think of. Marc and I were conducting operations in Ramadi, Iraq, together in 2006 when he was KIA by enemy gunfire.

"Marc was more than the first Navy SEAL killed in Iraq, however. He was my friend and a completely committed SEAL.

"He didn't accept the job for recognition or for attention. He understood the possible price of our occupation, and he was prepared to pay it. He was a true example of selfless sacrifice."

Villa Grove native, Naval captain

"I first think of Corporal JASON DUNHAM, who was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his heroic actions in Husaybah, Iraq, in 2004. He saved the men in his squad by throwing himself on a grenade dropped by an insurgent.

"He was a typical young Marine who epitomized the saying 'Uncommon valor was a common virtue,' which is how Admiral (Chester) Nimitz described those Marines who fought at Iwo Jima. Originally from a small town in Scio, New York, Corporal Dunham had humble beginnings and chose to serve and sacrifice for his country.

"He was an ordinary young man with an extraordinary commitment to others."

Army's first black surgeon general, first black female active-duty major general

"One courageous story I find particularly stirring is that of Private GEORGE WATSON, a World War II era soldier and a member of the Quartermaster field — two similarities he shares with my late father, Oscar George Grammer Sr.

"Serving in a segregated Army with all of the challenges that entailed, Private Watson was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 29th Quartermaster Regiment. On March 8, 1943, he was on board a ship near New Guinea when it was attacked by Japanese bombers. The ship was severely damaged and everyone was ordered to abandon.

"Rather than swimming to safety on one of the life boats, Private Watson remained in the water assisting others who were unable to swim and reach safety. Eventually, 158 of the men who had been on the ship were rescued.

"It is believed Private Watson drowned when, due to exhaustion, he was unable to get clear of the turbulence when the ship sank. His body was never recovered.

"Shortly after his death, he was awarded Distinguished Service Cross, becoming the first African-American in World War II to receive this award. After a review of the award in the 1990s, it was found his actions warranted the DSC being upgraded to a Medal of Honor, the highest award for valor.

"Recounting his story reminds me that on so many levels, in so many situations, there are times when we must swim away from safety."

Ret. Navy admiral, 17th chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff (2007-11)

"The first family I think of is visiting with a GOLD STAR MOTHER in 2011 in Boise, Idaho, who lost her son fighting for our country. He was in the Idaho National Guard. This gold star mom, with tears in her eyes, asked me to make sure her son's death would never be forgotten.

"I promised her I would do all I could. That promise is a sacred trust we endeavor to sustain today and every day and are committed to in our lives since I left the service at the end of 2011.

"These families of the fallen have paid the ultimate price for serving their country. Memorial Day brings their sacrifice into focus and reminds all Americans of that sacrifice."

Chronicled his service in 2011 best-seller 'SEAL Team Six: Memoirs of an Elite Navy SEAL Sniper'

"This is easy for me. I think of DAN BUSH, a Delta Force sniper and very motivational man who served with me in Somalia.

"Dan and I got to be friends during unit cross-training and being stationed in Mogadishu together. He never hesitated defending his men after being shot down and exemplified what is best in the military and in private life.

"When he died during the Battle of Mogadishu, he left behind an infant son and wife. I still wonder why I survived and better men like Dan died."

Navy veteran, UI Extension agribusiness educator

"I enlisted in the University of Illinois Navy and Marine Reserve Officer Training Corps in 1967. During my undergrad days, one of our ROTC battalion commanders was DAVID SKIBBE. If you looked up Marine officer in the dictionary, it would just say 'See David Skibbe.'

"David graduated and was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Marine Corps. He was serving in Vietnam on a long-range recon patrol on March 2, 1970, when his patrol engaged enemy troops. David was shot in the ankle while pulling another injured Marine off the exposed trail.

"In a classic 'fog of war' incident, while evacuating David via medevac helicopter hoist, the cable snapped, and he plummeted back into the dense jungle, unseen by his recon team.

"David was never seen again, and several attempts to find him were to no avail. He is listed as 'Missing In Action, Presumed Killed' and was posthumously awarded the Silver Star.

"David Skibbe gave the last full measure of devotion that March day in Vietnam. God Bless David and his family."

Ret. Navy admiral, commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet (2015-18)

"I don't think of just one service member. I think of 17 — THE 17 LOST in the collisions of the USS Fitzgerald and USS John S. McCain.

"Collectively, they represent the best this country has to offer. They came from across the country, and from around the world, drawn by a common dream to make a better life for themselves and, through their service to this nation, to make the rest of our lives better, as well.

"They swore an oath not to an individual, or an organization, but to a nation and the ideals it represents. Those that take that oath can't help but wonder from time to time if the call comes to act in that defense at risk of death, will courage serve or desert?

"The 17 lost now know the answer to that question. The call came for them, and they answered with service and sacrifice."

Navy veteran, pastor of three Vermilion County United Methodist churches

"I think of a man I never was able to meet: my uncle, THEODORE VINCENT FILICSKY.

"Uncle Ted died when his B-24, the 'Libby Raider,' was shot down in World War II during a bombing run. I've had to rely on the stories about him from my father, a World War II veteran, and his brothers.

"I remember stories of Uncle Ted's musical abilities and the many times during high school that he would play in a band at various venues in the area. I think about the 'what would have been' had he not perished during the war.

"Though I know it may seem foolish to do so, it makes me wonder what our world would be like if the lives of the thousands who paid that 'last full measure of devotion,' as President Lincoln described it, had been able to complete their lives.

"Questions like: Would one of them discover a cure for cancer or Alzheimer's or diabetes? How many would go on to become congressmen or senators or presidents? How many would be future leaders or just productive citizens?

"Questions like this cannot be fully answered, but they do give us something to think about."

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