The Edmond Sun
OKLA. CITY —
Nineteen Oklahoma National Guardsmen have died since Sept. 11, 2001, defending freedom and many more have been injured in combat in Afghanistan and Iraq.
During Tuesday’s joint session in the House chamber, lawmakers, Army National Guard Maj. Gen. Myles Deering and Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin paid tribute to the Oklahoma Army National Guard and the 45th Infantry Division, also known as the Thunderbirds.
It has been a long-standing legislative tradition to have a day set aside to recognize Oklahoma military contributions and sacrifices. The House gallery was filled with service members from various branches and their family members.
Tuesday’s event was a time to honor the 45th’s rich history and the present, Deering said. He urged Oklahomans to not forget the sacrifices of the sons and daughters who have given so much for others.
“They are prepared to and have sacrificed for our nation because they believe in peace and freedom,” Deering said. “And I am completely and totally humbled to serve them.”
Deering said for every soldier killed in combat dozens of others are wounded, individuals who often aren’t included in press reports. Often, injuries heal long after combat operations cease, he said, citing Vietnam veterans.
A year after coming home more than 200 Oklahoma soldiers from the 45th continue to receive medical treatment at various facilities across the country, Deering said.
He recognized Oklahoma soldiers in the gallery who have been recovering at the Brooke Army Medical Center, a Level 1 trauma facility at Fort Sam Houston. He recognized service members in the gallery who have received the Purple Heart.
On the House floor Pfc. Jeffrey R. Kerchee, of Edmond, received from Gov. Fallin the Purple Heart for wounds received on Feb. 11, 2007, while deployed in Iraq with the 1345th Transportation Company, Oklahoma Army National Guard. With Kerchee were his wife Megan, and their young twin sons Landon and Maddox.
Kerchee was serving as the gunner on the lead vehicle in a convoy in northern Iraq when it was struck by an improvised explosive device. Though he was injured, Kerchee and his team continued their assignment. Only after the successful completion of their mission were Kerchee’s wounds treated.
Other service members were honored during the ceremony. The Oklahoma Gold Star Medal of Honor was presented to the families of two fallen Oklahoma servicemen. It is given to members of the military born in Oklahoma who have lost their lives in the line of duty, or in a combat zone, since Sept. 11, 2001.
The families of Army Spc. Christopher D. Horton, of Owasso, and Army 2nd Lt. Jared Ewy, of Edmond, were present to receive the honor. Both men were members of the Oklahoma National Guard’s 45th Brigade Combat Team, and were killed in action in Afghanistan.
Rep. Randy Grau, R-Edmond, co-authored Senate Bill 1814, which created the Oklahoma Gold Star Medal of Honor. Grau said Horton and Ewy served their country with honor and bravery.
“Today’s ceremony was one of those moments when partisan politics are set aside so that we may focus on what binds us together,” Grau said.
Deering, adjutant general for Oklahoma, said no matter what Oklahomans hear about the across-the-board federal budget cuts the National Guard will be ready to serve the state and others when duty calls.
Fallin said more than half of Oklahoma’s 10,000 citizen soldiers and airmen are currently deployed overseas in locations including Afghanistan. Fallin said she takes great pride in send-off ceremonies for the troops and a duty to never forget the sacrifices of those who serve.
“In Oklahoma, your service is valued,” Fallin said. “We appreciate you. We are grateful for you. And today is our day to honor you. May God bless you.”
The 45th Infantry Division was among the first four Divisions called to duty in World War II. In 511 combat days, the 45th had fought through four countries from Sicily to the foothills of the Bavarian Alps. The division sustained more than 20,000 combat casualties, making it one of the five hardest hit in the Army, according to the National Guard.
Eight Thunderbirds received the nation’s highest honor for bravery, the Congressional Medal of Honor.
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