America Still Has Heroes

Joe Nocera at The Free Press: It was early afternoon, the Thursday before Memorial Day, and Oneida Oliver-Sanders and her husband Shawn Sanders were driving from Atlanta to their home in Waycross, Georgia, four hours away. They had been honored guests at the state’s annual Memorial Day remembrance, held every year by the steps of Georgia’s ornate capitol building.

“It was really nice,” Oneida said simply.

Throughout the hour-long ceremony, Oneida and Shawn heard their daughter Kennedy referred to as a “hero,” someone who “cared about others” and “wanted to serve her country.” And yes, that was really nice to hear—and the Sanderses took pride in those descriptions of their daughter. But, said Oneida, “it was a bittersweet moment to hear people call her a real American hero. Because I wish she was still here with me.” Her husband agreed: “I understand her contribution, being a veteran myself. But I would rather be selfish and have her with me than the reality of the situation.”

The reality of the situation is that Army Specialist Kennedy Sanders, age 24, was dead. In January, she and two other soldiers—part of a small unit deployed in Jordan—were killed when a drone strike hit their living quarters in the middle of the night. In addition to their deaths, some three dozen soldiers were injured. The three soldiers who were killed, all from Georgia, are the only combat casualties America has suffered this year.

The Sanders family has a long history of military service. Shawn spent four years in the Marines, including a stint in Iraq. Oneida counted off a half-dozen relatives who had been in the military, starting with her father, who was in the Navy. Polls show that there has been an enormous decline in the number of Americans who think of themselves as patriotic, from 70 percent in 1998 to 38 percent today. But a powerful sense of patriotism still runs through the Sanders family.

Still, when Kennedy told Oneida that she wanted to join the Army, her mother did not immediately embrace the idea. “I thought to myself, thank God we’re not involved in a war right now,” she said. “But I still had to warm up to the idea. I had wanted her to go to college, but that’s not the path she chose.” 

More here.