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Veterans have paid the ultimate price for freedom

The spine-tingling melody of taps floated from the bugle over the 63rd annual Memorial Day Ceremony in Emerson Park in Kansas City, Kansas as veterans, families and residents paid their final respects for the fallen soldiers on Memorial Day.

Sergeant First Class Vincent Morales carries deep scars from his service time in Iraq. He told the crowd that he spent a total of 36 months in various combat zones with over 500 route clearance missions completed. Those missions took their toll on him. He knows exactly the price that has been paid.

He talked about his best friend, Tyler Loren Creamean, from Little Rock, Arkansas, AKA ‘CreamPuff’, and the price he paid to serve his country. The two were basic training buddies and moved into the same unit and platoon. They were Combat Engineers also knows as “Sappers”.
This is the first time he has told the story of the men of the 3rd Platoon, 73rd Engineer Company and the events of May 22, 2005, a date forever burned into his memory.

After a two-week combat engagement in Tajik, Iraq, the men were looking forward to a night of rest. Morales’ unit was charged with keeping the roads clear from IEDs and enemy contact. Earlier in the week, the 1st Platoon had been hit repeatedly and all vehicles were down for repair. His unit was chosen and sent out to clear the road.

That night, Morales sat behind his M-249, locked and loaded, He popped on his head phones to let the music flow as his Humvee set out to search for IED’s. Ahead of him in another Humvee, searching the road for IED’s, was Creamean.

“A massive ball of light lights up the sky. Seems as if we found an IED the hard way. I make out chatter over the radio. ‘LT vehicles been hit, dismount, dismount, dismount.’ … A million and one thoughts run through my head. Inside the truck are Robert Buck, Gunner Creampuff and Platoon Leader Lieutenant Aaron Seesan. My team leader yells ‘Morales grab your gear, we are dropping ramp.’ As we race to the burning and destroyed Humvee, the gravity of the situation has not set in yet,” he recalled.

Trying to keep his voice steady and stop the tears, he continues, “First person I see is Buck on fire trying to pull himself out of the wreckage. As we approach the wreckage, rounds start impacting near us. Removing gear and jumping head first into the blazing truck, myself and my team leader Sergeant Zaora we’re able to extract Creampuff from the wreckage. We locate our Lieutenant. He is crushed and burnt to death from the contact. I learned that day when you are blown up nothing stays on you,” he said.

Staying by his friend’s side until he could be lifted by the Medavac chopper, he recalled that the blast had blown away Creamean’s dog tags and boots and left his belt on his body but tattered to pieces.

“We pulled an American flag from our Stryker and a fire blanket to cover him. I stayed with my buddy till it was time to load him in the chopper. I was able to get some words out of him, nothing I could understand as his mouth was immovable, but he was still alive and I prayed that it would not be the last time that I would see my brothers,” he said.

Bad news awaited him when he returned to base - Cream Puff had died in transit. Ten years later he recalled holding his friend in his arms, a man he will always remember as one of America’s finest.

Memorial Day is the day to remember the tremendous sacrifices that soldiers have made. The soldiers who never left the battlefields, the soldiers that have been prisoners of war. How should their sacrifices be honored is a question often asked during the Memorial Day weekend.
Morales suggested that the best way is to not spend Memorial Day in a shopping mall but rather spend the time reflecting on the service and sacrifice each has given for our freedom.

“As a nation we have made a promise, a promise that must be kept. Honor our fallen; we must keep that promise not by words but with action. We thank our heroes with a handshake, a smile and by fighting for them when they can’t. By ensuring they and their survivors get the care they earned when they signed that blank check. That their sacrifice was not in vain but for a greater purpose,” Morales said.

Veterans have another tradition of remembering their fallen comrades when they visit their grave. At a Veterans Memorial at Gate of Heaven cemetery in Kansas City, Kansas coins have been left in front of memorial walls honoring the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard.

A coin left on a headstone of a deceased soldier lets the family know that somebody stopped by to pay their respect. Leaving a penny means you visited. Leaving a nickel means that the two of you trained at boot camp together. If you served with the soldier, you leave a dime. A quarter means you were there on the battlefield alongside the soldier when they were killed.

Eventually the coins are collected and used for cemetery maintenance, the cost of burial for soldiers or it goes to a fund for the care of indigent soldiers.

The coin tradition became popular in the United States during the Vietnam War. It was a way to show respect without getting into a political discussion about a war that was very controversial.

Tony Mesa, commander of the Kansas City Chapter of the American GI Forum, served in the Vietnam War. As a veteran, he has mixed emotions about his service.

“I am proud to be a veteran. It took this country awhile to recognize the Vietnam veterans. I am glad to see that happening now,” he said.

In World War II, 11.2 percent of the nation served during four years. In Vietnam, 4.3 percent served in 12 years. Since 2001, only .45 percent of the population has served in the Global War on Terror. According to Morales, that is less than half of one percent.

“The common tie among each one of these classes of warriors is … that the gratitude truly does not belong to them, the ones who made it back, but to their fallen brothers and sisters who paid the ultimate sacrifice for this country — the ones whose checks were cashed in,” he said.
“Freedom demands the blood of patriots; today we have stained the sands crimson. Their life and death along with those words have been forever engraved into my mind and body,” said Morales.