I rise today to pay tribute to U.S. Army Sergeant Joshua M. Hardt of Applegate, California. He is one of the fallen heroes of the Battle of Kamdesh -- the remote outpost that was besieged and surrounded and hopelessly outnumbered by more than 300 Taliban insurgents on October 3rd. No soldiers in the history of our nation have fought more valiantly or bravely than the defenders of Combat Outpost Keating that day. In the end, they held their ground, they defended their flag and the honor of their country.
But most importantly, they defended something fundamental and sacred and eternal that defines humanity itself. They defended something that can never be abandoned as long as humanity exists. They defended right against wrong – good against evil – freedom against tyranny – in its most stark and defining form.
During the terrible winter of 1776, Thomas Paine, having watched many brave young men like Josh Hardt fall in defense of these same eternal truths, offered these words to try to make some sense of it: “Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as FREEDOM should not be highly rated.”
Josh Hardt knew that. And his family knew that. Through tears, his mother told a local newspaper “He was a very giving son. He went into the Army wanting to make a difference … wanting us to be safe…He expressed his desire to do more; to take more action and to make a difference. He didn’t know a better way than to go into the military and to fight for everybody.”
And that’s exactly what he did. He fought for his nation. He fought for its values. And he fought for the freedom of a people half a world away. And he paid for Heaven’s most expensive celestial article with his life -- not for himself, but for others.
I attended a Gold Star dinner recently and admitted to one of the hosts that I still didn’t know what to say to the families. She said, “just ask them about their sons.” So let me tell you about Josh Hardt. He was 24 years old. He’s remembered at Placer High School as an extraordinary athlete. He did his school so proud on the football field that they retired his helmet when he graduated.
He was one of those big hulking kids who stand up for whoever’s being picked on. I spoke with his wife and mother today who both told me exactly the same thing: that he was first and foremost a family man – willing to do anything for his family. And his friends. And his country.
He joined the Army just three years ago. He had already risen to the rank of sergeant and carried a chest of ribbons including the Bronze Star. Perhaps the most eloquent testimonies to his service are the remembrances from younger soldiers he had taken under his wing to help. In fact, that was his next assignment: to come back to the states and help returning veterans.
His football coach, Mark Sabins, remembered seeing him back home last year after his first tour of duty in Iraq and tells how excited he was to be marrying a remarkable young lady, Olivia, and how energized he was about his work in the Army and his plans for a family and how he looked forward to a full and promising life ahead.
Instead, he will return home tomorrow for the last time. His family and friends and neighbors will come to mourn him and to honor him and to remember him. His community will hold him up as an example of all that is heroic and virtuous. His nation will record his name onto its most hallowed rolls that he never be forgotten. Centuries from now, flags will be placed on his grave every year as future generations gather to consider the cost of their freedom.
And perhaps in Kamdesh, they will gather around a monument where Outpost Keating once stood and consider the measure of the men who paid everything to purchase for them so celestial an article as freedom.