Remembering the fallen
Vigil held in Cape for U.S. service members lost in Afghanistan
As the 20-year war in the Middle East has officially come to an end, members of the Southwest Florida community are paying their respects to the brave men and women who tragically lost their lives before evacuating Afghanistan.
On Wednesday night at the Veterans Memorial Area at Eco Park, nearly 50 gathered to honor U.S. service members killed in Kabul and the war in Afghanistan. The service was organized by Cape Coral resident Thor Hmielewski, a Marine veteran who himself served in Afghanistan on two separate tours in 2009 and 2011.
“I just felt like I had to do something,” Hmielewski said of why he organized the vigil. “I saw another (remembrance) in D.C. and knowing that we had the Veterans Memorial Area, I wanted to do the same thing here.”
A photo of each of the 13 service members recently killed in Kabul via an ISIS-K suicide bomber were illuminated by candlelight as their names were read aloud.
Among those in attendance were Bill and Margaret Eggers, the parents of Army Capt. and Green Beret Daniel W. Eggers who was killed in action May 29, 2004 when he, along with two of his comrades, struck a land mine in Kandahar, Afghanistan, during Operation Enduring Freedom.
“It was a very humbling event, many of us on the verge of tears during the roll call,” said Bill, who also served in the Vietnam War as an Army door gunner. “Some attendees were veterans, and some were grateful citizens. As a Gold Star Father myself, I proudly coughed up my tears.”
Hmielewski said he was happy to see the turnout, many of whom were new faces.
“It was more encouraging that the majority of people who came out, I didn’t even know, just people who were touched by the recent events,” he said.
Bill, who was supremely gracious for Hmielewski organizing the event, added, “These memorials for our fallen instill a sense of pride, honor, and sacrifice in my mind. When the National Anthem was played that night, I couldn’t hold back the tears when the last six words were played out – ‘And the home of the brave’ – those six words, to me, me everything in a nutshell for our brave warriors and our country. That says it all.”
Official end of the War in Afghanistan
On Aug. 31, U.S. military forces left Kabul in what marked the official end of the War in Afghanistan – a 20-year war started after the terrorist attacks on American soil Sept. 11, 2001.
“Last night in Kabul, the United States ended 20 years of war in Afghanistan — the longest war in American history,” said President Joe Biden in a national address Tuesday afternoon.
From the end of July, more than 120,000 individuals were evacuated from the Kabul airport as the Aug. 31 deadline approached, including roughly 5,500 U.S. citizens, though not without bloodshed. Two suicide bombers detonated their devices around large crowds at the airport, killing 13 U.S. service members and 60 Afghans. Twenty additional military personnel were also wounded.
“We owe them and their families a debt of gratitude we can never repay but we should never, ever, ever forget,” Biden said.
He continued to say, “We got out thousands of citizens and diplomats from those countries that went into Afghanistan with us to get bin Laden. We got out locally employed staff of the United States Embassy and their families, totaling roughly 2,500 people. We got thousands of Afghan translators and interpreters and others, who supported the United States, out as well.”
While many can find common ground on the War in Afghanistan coming to an end, many have issues about the way it was done.
District 19 Representative Byron Donalds released the following statement pertaining to the indecent that took the lives of U.S. military members: “Erika and I express our heartfelt condolences and prayers to the families and loved ones of the United States Service Members that died in Kabul, Afghanistan, following the heinous terrorist attack. Our brave servicemen and women exemplify the very best of America, and we owe them an endless debt of gratitude and support. There is no greater sacrifice than to lay down your life in defense of your nation, and the tragic passing of these brave heroes is a devastating reminder of the heroism embodied by all those who serve in America’s Armed Forces. I join the people of Florida’s 19th Congressional District and a grateful nation in mourning the heartbreaking loss and injuries of American troops. Today is a grim day for our country, but their honorable sacrifice will stand as a beacon of light during this dark time.”
Hmielewski said he’s frustrated with the way things played out in Afghanistan, and as a veteran of the war, knew things would eventually be turned over to the Taliban.
“The writing was on the wall, we already knew while we were deployed there it was going to happen,” he said. “But the way that we withdrew, we were hoping it would be more graceful and honorable, but it turned into a circus. There are so many horrible images that came out in the course of those two weeks. They literally sent our reputation back years over the course of two weeks.”
Eggers shared similar sentiments to what had unfolded prior to the final boots leaving the ground in the Middle East.
“The U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan these past weeks has been a disastrous campaign,” he said. “President Biden and his advisors were reckless in their decisions to evacuate American civilians and our Afghan allies. His campaign was implemented upside down and backwards – it defied logic. The Biden administration continually lied to the American public in their televised updates — that hurts. It also hurts very much that Biden stole the honor from all those who served in Afghanistan. Those soldiers prided themselves for giving all they had. Instead of leaving the country in an honorable fashion, we left in defeat and death.”
It was in 2004 that Bill’s son Daniel made his second deployment to Afghanistan. He and his team were pursuing a group of terrorists when their vehicle encountered an improvised explosive device. He was also fluent in Arabic. His two sons are following in their father’s footsteps and are both currently enrolled at The Citadel. Daniel was honored by former President Donald Trump at a Memorial Day Ceremony at Fort McHenry in Baltimore last year.
“Speaking as a Gold Star Father who lost his son in Afghanistan, I feel obligated to weigh in on this matter,” Eggers continued. “I say that Biden especially stole the honor and proud moments from every Gold Star Family, every family of those impacted with wounded warriors — many with horrific wounds — and all those who served. Biden poured salt into the wounds of each of these family members. Instead of being a wondrous, bright, proud day, Biden turned the last day of the campaign into a national embarrassment and international disaster. He left US citizens and our allies behind. Such a national disgrace. I am sure each of these families impacted will be demanding their pound of flesh from Biden and his administration.”
Biden said 98% of Americans in Afghanistan who wanted to leave were able to, and that about “100 to 200 Americans remain in Afghanistan with some intention to leave.”
“And for those remaining Americans, there is no deadline,” he said. “We remain committed to get them out if they want to come out. Secretary of State (Antony) Blinken is leading the continued diplomatic efforts to ensure a safe passage for any American, Afghan partner, or foreign national who wants to leave Afghanistan.”
–Connect with this reporter on Twitter: @haddad_cj