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When Iraqi children came around his Humvee, Army Private First Class Nicholas Madaras of the 4th infantry Division of the Connecticut National Guard would always have something to give them... candy, chewing gum, or a stuffed animal. He loved children and went out of his way to bring a smile to a child's face. "He wanted them to know he was there to keep them safe," said one of his comrades in arms.

An avid soccer player, Nick knew that one way he could connect with the Iraqi children was through the international sport of soccer. "He was concerned about the kids over there, and he mentioned it to me," said his father in Wilton, CT. Madaras said his son even asked his father to send soccer balls to Iraq so he could pass them out to the children. PFC Madaras was killed September 3, 2006, as a result of injuries sustained when an improvised explosive device detonated near his patrol in Baqubah, Iraq. His father and members of American Legion Post 86 in Wilton decided to honor his memory in a fashion most befitting to PFC Madaras' legacy. A soccer net and a sign announcing "Kick for Nick" was set up outside Post 86 to collect soccer balls to send to children in Iraq.

More than a million American service members — like PFC Madaras — have died in the wars and conflicts this nation has fought since the first colonial soldiers took up arms in 1775 to fight for independence. From the Civil War to Europe — from Pearl Harbor to Korea — from Vietnam to Grenada from Kuwait to Afghanistan and Iraq — men and women like Madaras have died so that we could continue to cherish the things they loved — God, country and family.

Consider the letter sent to Command Sergeant Major James Blankenbecler from his young daughter, Jessica, two days after she learned he was killed in a convoy in Samara, Iraq.

"Hi, Daddy, sorry I haven't written to you in a while. I miss you so much. How have you been? Is heaven everything it says it is? I know it's probably that and more. I can't wait until I can come and join you again. I have your military ring on right now. It's kind of big for my little finger, but it makes me feel like you're holding my hand when I have it on. It's been on since we found out the news. And when we drive by the billboards that say "An Army of One", it makes me remember you in your military uniform. How you always made a crunching sound when you walked, and how you shined your big boots every night before you went to bed. I miss seeing that all the time. I know you are gone now, but it only means that I have another angel watching over me for the rest of my life. That's the only way I can think of this as being good. Little things I took for granted when you were here seem priceless now. I miss you, daddy, with all my heart. I will always be your little girl. I love you, daddy, I miss you!!"

"P.S. I have never been so proud of my last name."

Jessica's words, I think, capture the full realm of emotions and thoughts that we share on Memorial Day... sorrow, happiness, pride, admiration and love. We salute our American soldiers like PFC Madaras and Sgt Major Blankenbecler who have laid down their lives for our country. May God bless them! ! !

For His Cause,
Tim Woodward