Photo: Sue Reich, mother of Maj. Stephen Reich who was killed in 2005 in Afghanistan, holds a photo of her son. Stephen, who played baseball for Team USA, was one of 16 Special Operations Aviation regiment soldiers killed on a mission to extract SEAL team members, an event depicted in “Lone Survivor.” PHOTO CREDIT – DOUGLAS HEALEY

As an American, I view Memorial Day as a solemn day of remembrance, a day to pay tribute to all those members of our Armed Forces who made the ultimate sacrifice in defending our Nation and our way of life. As a Veteran, that remembrance is personal, for some of my friends and comrades are among those who answered the call and made the ultimate sacrifice. For too many Americans today, Memorial Day has become primarily a day of backyard BBQs and the official “first day of Summer”. In part this is due to a civil military divide that has developed over the past few decades. Very few of our citizens are aware of the origin of this very important National holiday. Today, I would like to share with you some of the little known facts regarding this day.

On May 5th, 1868 General John Logan led an organization of Civil War Veterans in a grass roots movement throughout our once severely divided country to visibly remember the service and sacrifice of fallen Union soldiers by decorating their graves. He proclaimed this remembrance Decoration Day and specifically chose the date of May 30th because it was not the anniversary of any particular Civil War battle in order to ensure that the meaning of the day would not be misunderstood.

Before long, soldiers who served both the Union and the Confederacy were remembered annually on that date.

By the conclusion of WWI, the once termed Decoration Day was officially redesigned as Memorial Day in order to recognize service members in all the Nation’s wars who gave their lives in defense of this country. The day remained focused on paying tribute to the ultimate sacrifices made by our humble heroes.

In 1968 Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act which severed the connection with the May 30th and created a “long weekend” federal holiday. This change allowed federal employees and service members to spend time with their families and reflect on the sacrifices of comrades less fortunate than them.

As a federal employee and service member I am not able to comment on political decisions or the current state of our society. I do note that public support and respect for uniformed service members is reportedly at an unprecedented high, but knowledge of the nature of our sacrifice remains disproportionally low. I am honored today to be afforded a platform to speak to an audience of Patriotic Americans who do understand the true significance of this solemn day of remembrance. The fact is, however, that many – perhaps even a majority of men and women my age – view Memorial Day primarily as the official beginning of Summer that centers largely around backyard BBQs. For them, the day bears little or no vestiges of its intended purpose.

Today I would like to propose a change, a resurgence movement to encourage everyone to pay homage to a service member. I would encourage you to gather with friends and family and learn more about the humble and all too often forgotten heroes who have so nobly served our Nation. As a parent I take pride in raising my children to understand and respect this holiday for its intended purpose. On this day of remembrance, I make it a point to speak to my children of the sacrifices their great grandparents made in WWII, enlisting in the marines at the age of 17 by falsifying their birth dates. I ensure their other relatives are thanked for their actions in Vietnam, something that was sadly overlooked by our citizenry during their time in service. Most importantly, my wife and I ensure our children know about the friends I have lost in armed conflict. This past weekend my family laid flowers at the graves of four West Point graduates who gave their lives and we spoke of their legacies in great depth.

Today, I would like to share with you the name of someone who truly epitomizes the character of our quiet professionals. As a former member of the 160th Aviation, I jokingly classify myself as a glorified taxi driver. Our mission is to deliver members of the special operations forces to the most challenging environments imaginable. My unit has developed a strong kinship with these individuals and a mutual trust and understanding. Over the years my organization has been known to deliver operators to an objective virtually anywhere in the world. We have responded to situations involving hostage rescue scenarios, capturing or killing of high ranking terrorists, and just about any other scenario you might imagine – most involve a high probability of direct armed conflict.

Over the years Hollywood has romanticized some of these operations in blockbuster hits such as Black Hawk Down, Zero Dark Thirty, and Lone Survivor. Those who have seen the film Lone Survivor have an understanding of the sacrifices made by this Special Ops team, especially that of LT Michael Murphy who posthumously received the Medal of Honor for his actions that fateful day in the Kunar Province. LT Murphy knowingly exposed himself to enemy fire in order to call for immediate support to suppress an overwhelming enemy force. While his actions are well known and highly publicized as they should be, the actions of so many others like him are sometimes overlooked.

This Memorial Day I would like to tell you about the Air Mission Commander who responded to that radio call. Major Stephen Reich hailed from CT and was recruited to play baseball at West Point. During his 4 years at the Academy he set the school’s all time strikeout record but was better known for his humility, always preferring to be mentioned as just a member of the team. Two years after graduating West Point, he was drafted by the Baltimore Orioles and had prospects for a promising career in Major League Baseball. He had tried out with blessings of the Pentagon, but ultimately, however, that decision was reversed and he was told to return to complete his tour of active duty. He did so without hesitation and became a member of the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment known as the Night Stalkers.

Stephen’s work ethic and natural humility soon earned him great distinction even among this community of elite operators. A portion of the 160th creed states that “When the impossible has been accomplished the only reward is another mission that no one else will try.” This was the mantra Stephen embodied on the fateful night on June 28, 2005.

The day before the Night Stalkers had successfully flown two highly modified Chinook Helicopters under the cover of darkness to insert the Navy Seal team in support of Operation Red Wing without detection. Within the next 24 hours the Seal team was detected by a large enemy force and became embroiled in a heavy fire fight. When the distress call was received, MAJ Reich acted without hesitation or concern for his own well-being. Understanding that every second could be a matter of life and death for the ambushed Seals, he departed without the tactical advantage of darkness or sufficient air support. While attempting to insert reinforcements on some of the most difficult terrain an aviator could possibly encounter, his aircraft received a direct hit from a Rocket Propelled Grenade that took his life and the lives of 15 other men.

On this is Memorial Day, Congressional legislation requests all Americans pause at 3pm to remember the fallen. I ask that we all remember those who paid the ultimate price during Operation Red Wing and encourage every American know their names!

Navy SEALs
SEAL Delivery Vehicle Team 1, Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.
Lt. (SEAL) Michael P. Murphy, 29, of Patchogue, N.Y.
Sonar Technician (Surface) 2nd Class (SEAL) Matthew G. Axelson, 29, of Cupertino, Calif.
Machinist Mate 2nd Class (SEAL) Eric S. Patton, 22, of Boulder City, Nev.
Senior Chief Information Systems Technician (SEAL) Daniel R. Healy, 36, of Exeter, N.H.
Quartermaster 2nd Class (SEAL) James Suh, 28, of Deerfield Beach, Fla.
SEAL Delivery Vehicle Team 2, Virginia Beach, Va.
Gunner’s Mate 2nd Class (SEAL) Danny P. Dietz, 25, of Littleton, Colo.
SEAL Team 10, Virginia Beach, Va.
Chief Fire Controlman (SEAL) Jacques J. Fontan, 36, of New Orleans, La.
Lt. Cmdr. (SEAL) Erik S. Kristensen, 33, of San Diego, Calif.
Electronics Technician 1st Class (SEAL) Jeffery A. Lucas, 33, of Corbett, Ore.
Lt. (SEAL) Michael M. McGreevy Jr., 30, of Portville, N.Y.
Hospital Corpsman 1st Class (SEAL) Jeffrey S. Taylor, 30, of Midway, W.Va.
Army Night Stalkers
3rd Battalion, 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne), Hunter Army Air Field, Ga.
Staff Sgt. Shamus O. Goare, 29, of Danville, Ohio.
Chief Warrant Officer Corey J. Goodnature, 35, of Clarks Grove, Minn.
Sgt. Kip A. Jacoby, 21, of Pompano Beach, Fla.
Sgt. 1st Class Marcus V. Muralles, 33, of Shelbyville, Ind.
Maj. Stephen C. Reich, 34, of Washington Depot, Conn.
Sgt. 1st Class Michael L. Russell, 31, of Stafford, Va.
Chief Warrant Officer Chris J. Scherkenbach, 40, of Jacksonville, Fla.
HQ Company, 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne), Fort Campbell, Ky.
Master Sgt. James W. Ponder III, 36, of Franklin, Tenn.

In addition to this request, I have one final plea. Enjoy Memorial Day, drink beer, have a BBQ, but at 3PM take the time to remember what this day truly represents and help educate those who do not understand the real meaning of Memorial Day. Although politics and personal beliefs may incite heated debate over the necessity of war, remembering our war fighters remains relevant and appropriate. Until the unlikely event that we achieve a utopian world society where nation states can exist without fear of armed conflict, our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines will continue to fight to defend our way of life.

As a member of the unit in which Stephen once served, I can assure you that his legend echoes in profound silence throughout the Battalion. He embodies the true nature of a humble hero and even now I’m sure he would likely blush at the idea of being memorialized. I had the pleasure to meet Stephen’s mother Mrs. Reich at the funeral services of another fallen Night Stalker two years ago. Although I spoke only briefly with her, the stories told of him ring truer now than ever before. This extraordinarily talented but humble CT native could have done just about anything he put his mind to in life – but he chose to serve.

The final verse of our Night Stalker creed succinctly summarizes the reason I chose to serve and the importance of this solemn day of remembrance. In it we say, “I serve with the memory and pride of those who have gone before me for they love to fight, fought to win and would rather die than quit.” Rest in peace brother, you are not forgotten. Night Stalkers Don’t Quit!

Tyler Merritt
Former member 160th SOAR