Pastor's Blog

Courage and Sacrifice Posted 5.24.2013

Memorial Day is more than just a day off from work—it’s a day to honor the soldiers who have died in battle defending their homeland. Let me share one story.  May it help us give thanks to God for our freedom and renew our courage to use that freedom to tell of the love and grace of our King.


When his son deployed to Afghanistan in May 2009 from Camp Lejeune, N.C., Steven Xiarhos had a bad feeling. He didn't sense the same excitement from the Marines that he did when they left for Iraq.  "They were going into hell, and they knew it," Xiarhos said. "You could see it in their faces."


But when his son reached Afghanistan, he let his family know he was assigned to travel in the so-called MRAP, the sturdiest of Marine vehicles, built to withstand the roadside bombs the enemy loved.  Then on July 23 came the awful news:  Cpl. Nicholas Xiarhos, 21, had died of injuries from an improvised explosive device that had detonated beneath his Humvee. 


There had been a reassignment of vehicles, and the MRAP had been needed elsewhere in the convoy.  The Marine driving the Humvee was killed instantly. The gunner's leg was blown off; a Navy corpsman was injured. Xiarhos, initially trapped inside the wreckage, was airlifted to a field hospital. "He fought on and fought on and fought on and never gave up," his father said. "But three hours later he was gone."


Each Memorial Day since his son's death has been difficult for Steven Xiarhos.  Memories of that premonition at Camp Lejeune are mixed with torturous speculation about what would have happened if the vehicles had not been switched.  But those things are not uppermost in his mind.  His message is always, "I want to remind people that when they see a veteran, they should go shake his hand or buy him a cup of coffee.  And when the national anthem is played at the ballgame, stand up and put your hand on your heart: Never forget that people have died for you and for that flag."


The months after Nicholas’ death were a blur for the family:  an emotional memorial service for 13 Marines killed during the deployment, a chance meeting in Boston with a surgeon who was at the field hospital when his son was rushed in, a private meeting with President Obama.  "We have no anger against anyone or any thing," said Steven Xiarhos, his voice breaking slightly. "Just sadness and pride."


Nicholas Xiarhos had served in Iraq with the 1st Battalion, 9th Regiment, and narrowly missed being killed in 2008 when a suicide truck laden with explosives tried to crash into the Marine compound in Ramadi. Two Marines standing post refused to budge and let loose a blast of gunfire. Both were killed in the explosion when the driver loosened his grip on the "dead man's switch." Dozens of Marines and Iraqi soldiers were saved.


The heroic example of Marines protecting other Marines was not lost on Xiarhos. When he returned home and learned a buddy in another unit was deploying to Afghanistan, he applied for a transfer.


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