In communities throughout this country, citizens leave their homes and workplaces to stand along roadsides with friends, neighbors, and strangers alike, united in a single purpose. Some hold up flags; some display hand-lettered signs with messages of thanks and remembrance. Others simply stand with hands over hearts as the procession passes by. In this way they pay their respects to our fallen heroes on their final journeys home.
Each warrior has his or her own story of a life lived and a life laid down in service to our country. One such story is that of Senior Airman Mark A. Forester, a man who believed he was put on earth to defend the United States of America.
He wanted to kill terrorists, so he chose to serve at the tip of the spear as an Air Force Special Operations Combat Controller. The bronze star pictured here was awarded for his heroism on August 6, 2010 in Afghanistan's Oruzgan Province. After being ambushed by insurgents, Forester's team was pinned down for eight hours by machine gun and rocket-propelled grenade fire. Not once, but twice, Forester stepped from behind cover and directly into enemy fire to launch smoke grenades to mark the insurgents' position. He directed strafing runs to the target, but the sizeable enemy force maneuvered closer.
As the situation grew more dire, Forester ran through a hail of enemy bullets to reach the front of the team's column, where he could gain a better vantage point of the enemy stronghold. Forester launched more smoke grenades to pinpoint the positions while simultaneously directing two 500-pound bombs onto the target from a flight of F-16s. His actions enabled his team to kill 37 insurgents, evacuate the wounded, and return to base.
The heroic soldier did not live to receive his bronze star. On September 29, 2010, Mark Forester ran back into enemy fire to try and save Sgt. First Class Calvin Harrison, a Special Forces medic who had been shot by a sniper. Forester was shot in the chest and died; he was 29 years old. Sgt. Harrison and another member of their squad died in the battle.
Mark was the youngest of five children and the second to enter the military. His friends and family described him as a kind and gentle man with a strong sense of purpose. He earned a degree in finance from the University of Alabama before joining the U.S. Air Force when he was 26. For his heroism, Airman Forester was awarded the Bronze Star With Valor, which was presented to his parents, Pat and Ray Forester.
Mark Forester was laid to rest in his hometown of Haleyville, Alabama. Four Air Force fighter jets flew across the cloudless sky above the cemetery. One broke formation, rolling heavenward into the blue. Below, there were tears, salutes, and the grateful hearts of a nation.
Reprinted with permission from America's Heroes: Stories From Today's Armed Forces, © Whitman Publishing, LLC. All Rights Reserved.