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December 5, 2000
A Modern Hero and an Ancient Faith
By Congressman Joseph R. Pitts
It is unfortunate that so many Americans believe we live in an age without heroes. It’s unfortunate, because it just isn’t true. There are heroes in every sphere of American life—medicine, emergency services, science, business and, yes, even politics.
But if you really want to find a hero, the armed services are the first place you should look. We live in a time when every man and woman in the military is there of their own accord. Every soldier, sailor, airman, and marine is consciously and voluntarily putting his life on the line for his country. This is no idle commitment. Many die. It is rare that they die with the same glory that attended the deaths of men at Iwo Jima, Shiloh, or Bunker Hill. But they die for their country, nonetheless.
Chad Burkhart, of New Holland in Lancaster County, is the latest patriot to die for his country.
Two hundred and twenty-four years ago, Nathan Hale said before being executed by the British, “I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country.” This sentence is indelibly stamped on the heart and mind of every American. It is the essence of a patriotism too many Americans think is lost today.
According to accounts in Lancaster newspapers, Chad always wanted to serve his country. At a young age he set his sights on becoming a Navy SEAL. The SEALs, paired with the Army’s “Green Berets,” are the most elite fighting men we have. They are the best trained, the most able, and the most frequently relied upon men in our military. Chad wanted to be one, which is not uncommon. Chad also became one, which is more than uncommon: it is exceptional. One does not become a Navy SEAL easily, or on a whim. Extremely rigorous training soon weeds out all but the most dedicated and most able.
Where does this dedication come from? In the case of Chad Burkhart, it was a strong belief in his country and a strong commitment to the Lord. His father told a newspaper last week that “Chad was an exceptionally patriotic young man and died fighting to uphold the Christian values of his country.”
His platoon chief, Joseph Kuhns, told Paula Wolf of the Sunday News, “ He had honesty, integrity, loyalty. All I had to teach him was to train him for war. I’m not going to say goodbye. I’ll see him again some day in heaven.”
What makes Chad Burkhart a hero is not that he died for his country. He is a hero because he was willing to die for his country. More than that, he knew why he was willing to die for his country. He knew what made this country great, and was fully prepared to pay the ultimate sacrifice to defend it. And he did.
Chad died the day after Thanksgiving, while on a mission the details of which we’ll probably never know. He called his family and his fiancée the day before to wish them a happy Thanksgiving and to tell them he loved them. Then he left on a mission that proved to be his last.
With Thanksgiving past and families now preparing to celebrate Hanukkah and then Christmas, our attention moves from thankfulness for God’s blessings to awe of God’s miracles. Jews will be celebrating the miraculous burning of a lamp for eight days after the Maccabees' liberation of the Jerusalem Temple from the Syrians. Christians will be celebrating the incarnation of the Savior of the World. Freedom of worship is only one of the many freedoms that Chad died to preserve and defend.
As we worship and celebrate this December, let’s all thank God for our freedoms and for the greatness of our country. Let’s also thank God for the life of Chad Burkhart who, like Nathan Hale, dedicated both his life and his death to the preservation of God’s blessings in America.
Congressman Joe Pitts (R, PA-16) is an Air Force veteran and a member of the House Armed Services Committee.
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