May 22, 2023
SENATOR PHILLIP WHEELER: REMEMBERING FALLEN HEROES
Memorial Day Column
The arrival of Memorial Day has come to feel like the start of summer, especially with so many students’ school years ending across the commonwealth. During the holiday weekend, families across our state will begin their yearly traditions and the memory-making we all enjoy.
These moments with family and friends would not be possible without the sacrifices of many who laid down their lives to bless ours. Properly honoring the memory of fallen service members demands a celebration with a heart of gratitude and a deliberate effort to educate our children on the significance of Memorial Day.
How fortunate are we to live as United States citizens and residents of our great state? As is evident in thousands having just cast ballots in the state’s primary election, no other country boasts the freedoms and privileges we enjoy in America, a country founded on religious liberty and the pursuit of happiness, no matter how one may define it.
Protecting those freedoms requires a military force like none other. Memorial Day was established to honor those who perished in the Civil War, which claimed more lives than any conflict in our nation’s history. In the late 1860s, Americans began holding springtime tributes to fallen soldiers, decorating graves, and praying together. These memorial activities became a tradition.
I sponsored two bills this past session to memorialize some of the 31st Senate District’s fallen heroes. Pike Countian Virgil Mounts joined the United States Navy at age 16 during World War II and is recognized as the youngest casualty of the D-Day invasion when he was killed at Omaha Beach. He will be honored with a bridge near his former home on Pond Creek at McAndrews. I also worked with the Lawrence County Fiscal Court to sponsor a bill to memorialize the County’s fallen heroes from the Vietnam War, Corporal Jimmy Wayne Hardwick, Private Ellsworth Swann, and Warrant Officer Charles Spencer. The names of these fallen heroes must carry on as a reminder to future generations.
Tragically, we experienced a significant loss here in Kentucky earlier this year. Nine soldiers died in a March 29 crash when two Black Hawk helicopters crashed. While not from Kentucky, it is fitting to remember these service members and the families they left behind.
Those who perished in the crash included: Staff Sgt. Joshua Gore, 25, from Morehead City, North Carolina; Chief Warrant Officer 2 Zachary Esparza, 36, from Jackson, Missouri; Sgt. David Solinas Jr., 23, from Oradell, New Jersey; Staff Sgt. Taylor Mitchell, 30, from Mountain Brook, Alabama; Sgt. Isaac J. Gayo, 27, from Los Angeles, California; Chief Warrant Officer 2 Rusten Smith, 32, from Rolla, Missouri; Warrant Officer 1 Aaron Healy, 32, from Cape Coral, Florida; Cpl. Emilie Marie Eve Bolanos, 23, from Austin, Texas; and Warrant Officer 1 Jeffery Barnes, 33, from Milton, Florida.
I ask you to join me in memorializing these brave servicemen and women who lost their lives in the line of duty.
As you create cherished memories with your family this holiday weekend, engage in conversation with the young people in your life to ensure the special tradition of Memorial Day is not lost. Express to them the magnitude of the holiday.
Remember the words written by President John Adams to Benjamin Rush in 1808: “Our obligations to our country never cease but with our lives.” Remember our fallen heroes who fulfilled their obligation to their nation more than most others ever will.
It is my honor to serve as your state senator. I encourage you to seek a Memorial Day ceremony honoring our fallen military members among your other family traditions. I wish you and yours a safe and blessed Memorial Day weekend.
Senator Phillip Wheeler, R-Pikeville, represents Kentucky’s 31st Senate District, including Elliott, Johnson, Lawrence, Martin, and Pike Counties. Wheeler is vice chair of the Senate Economic Development, Tourism, and Labor, and the Senate Judiciary committees. He is also Capital Planning Advisory Board co-chair. Additionally, Wheeler serves as a member of the Senate Transportation, Natural Resources and Energy, State and Local Government, and Transportation committees. Wheeler recently served on the 2022 Interim Benefits Cliff Task Force.