Tribute to Staff Sergeant Russell Jeremiah Proctor
Mr. Speaker: On June 26th, a roadside bomb in Jalula, Iraq claimed the life of a young man from Oroville, California. He was Army Staff Sergeant Russell Jeremiah Proctor, age 25, on his third tour of combat duty.
He was laid to rest last week in solemn ceremonies in California. Sgt. Proctor leaves behind a grieving widow, a devastated family, and a nine-month old son who will know his father only by reputation.
And it is reputation that I want to speak of today. I never met Sgt. Proctor. I, too, know him only by reputation.
It is a reputation commemorated by – among other decorations – two Army Commendation Medals, two Army Achievement Medals, two Army Good Conduct Medals, the National Defense Service Medal, the Iraqi Campaign Medal with Bronze Service Star, the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, two Overseas Service Ribbons, a Combat Action Badge, the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart.
It is a reputation memorialized by those who knew him best: the men he served with. “He was a leader among leaders” said one, “His drive to be the best motivated all of us to reach our potential.” Another said, “He led from the front. He inspired everyone around him to better themselves.”
Perhaps the most poignant was this simple post: “My son was killed with (Sergeant) Proctor. (Private First Class) Dylan Johnson and the rest of the soldiers in the unit all looked up to Russell for leadership and guidance. They are both heroes to me as well.” It is signed, “A grieving Dad.”
I had the honor to speak last week with Sgt. Proctor’s widow, Soila. She’s also active duty Army; they met while serving at Fort Hood. She was deployed in the same Forward Operating Base as Russell – they were billeted together and she was nearby when he was killed. I cannot begin to imagine the hell that she has been through. And yet, having endured all this, she plans to continue her service to our Country in the U.S. Army.
Mr. Speaker, James Michener’s question thunders down on us at such moments: where do we get such people? I don’t have an answer to that question. As I talked with Soila last Monday, I was struck by the transcendent nobility that accompanies her grief.
Perhaps a more pertinent question is what would our country do without such people as Sgt. Proctor – or the nine generations of Americans who have preceded him in the defense of our nation. General Patton was right when he observed that “It is foolish and wrong to mourn the men who died. Rather we should thank God that such men lived.”
And so, Mr. Speaker, I rise today for exactly that purpose – to thank God that Russell Proctor lived. And to pray that his infant son, Ezekiel, grows up in a nation made safer by his sacrifice – and a nation that will never forget not only what we owe to those who Lincoln once called “the loved and lost,” but what we owe to the families who so personally bear that loss.
A chaplain who brought the dread news to the family wrote a commentary over the fourth of July weekend – a weekend filled with barbecues, picnics and fireworks -- in which he noted the grief of that family amidst all the frivolity around them. And he noted that at age 25, Russell Proctor will never again celebrate a birthday, take his son fishing or hug his wife.
Sgt. Russell Proctor and all those who preceded him since the first shots on Lexington Green believed enough in our country and what it stands for to sacrifice all those precious years of love and life and joy so that we -- their fellow Americans -- could enjoy those same blessings of liberty in safety and security – including a baby boy named Ezekiel whose Dad won’t be there to take him fishing or hug him or celebrate birthdays with him.
Ezekiel, if you should someday stumble upon these words, I hope you will know that, like you, many of us knew your Dad only by reputation.
And we stood in awe of him.
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Remarks delivered in the House Chamber, Washington, D.C. July 21, 2011.