Saturday, May 31, 2008

Army Spc. James M. Finley

Remember Our Heroes

Army Spc. James M. Finley, 21, of Lebanon, Mo.

Spc. Finley was assigned to the 173rd Special Troops Battalion, 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, Bamberg, Germany; died May 31, 2008 in Jalalabad City, Afghanistan, of wounds sustained when his vehicle encountered an improvised explosive device. Also killed was Pvt. Andrew J. Shields.

Grateful for James Finley
By Katie Hilton

When terrorists attacked the United States on 9/11/2001, James Matthew Finley was in junior high school.

No doubt the impressions of that unspeakable loss and devastation stayed with him, as they have with everyone who recalls that day. We watched Twin Towers collapse into toxic grey clouds, a fiery hole consume airline passengers and occupants of the Pentagon, and an eerily quiet blemish appear on a field in Pennsylvania — the instant grave for more airline passengers and the terrorists who tried to steer their plane toward Washington.

I did not have the privilege of knowing James Matthew Finley. But now I know that he volunteered to try to stop more al-Qaida terrorists hiding in caves and gullies in Afghanistan from launching more attacks against the nation that he, and I, love.

I am deeply grateful for his service and his sacrifice. America needed him. He answered. He paid all he had.

It is tragic that this brave young man will not grow old, telling stories about his part in Operation Enduring Freedom, bringing up children, and living in our blessed land. My heart weeps for his family and friends. My prayers join those of hundreds and thousands in Laclede County who ask that the Finleys receive comfort and support from the heart of God.

I am proud that my community will salute Specialist Finley and his family tomorrow when he is laid to rest. Not everyone can go to pay their respects in person — flag in hand, hat or hand over heart, lining South Jefferson. But thousands will be thinking about Specialist Finley’s sacrifice on Monday and in the days to come.

It’s been nearly seven years since 9/11. The war in Afghanistan and Iraq goes on. This being an election year, critics of the war get louder. Lots of people proclaim they could have prosecuted it better, shorter, cleaner.

Maybe. Maybe not.

That fact is that terrorism remains the deadliest threat to America, and it must be defeated. Specialist Finley knew that. He volunteered to do his part.

We owe it to Specialist Finley and all those who are defending us, and we owe it to those 3,000 civilians slain on a clear September day, to remove the threat that terrorism poses to our liberty.

It was a different war when Lincoln spoke his few words at Gettysburg 144 years ago. His admonition is ours today:

“It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion; that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain. ...”

The American experiment in government is young. Fighting for an ideal, freedom, is a new concept in a dark and broken world. We here take for granted the rights that are God’s blessing, hard won by men and women like James M. Finley, from Lexington and Concord, through D-Day, to June 8, 2008.

So when you worship where and as you please; when you vote for whoever or whatever you want; when you slam or praise your elected officials or the actions they take, have in your heart a special thank-you to Specialist Finley and his loved ones.

I’ll bet he’d say, “You’re welcome.”

A community mourns for 21-year-old James Finley
By Drew Nobles

It’s a phone call no military family ever wants to answer.

It’s their worst nightmare, an unknown sympathetic voice explaining that their loved one has died while serving their country bravely and honorably. On May 31, the phone rang and the War on Terrorism struck home for the family of Spc. James Finley.

“Though this is not the homecoming celebration we’ve been planning, we are so glad you are home,” Wayne Finley — James Finley’s father — managed to say through tears to a mourning crowd of family, friends, classmates, teachers, America’s servicemen and women Monday afternoon at Heritage Baptist Temple. All had gathered to honor and say good-bye to a fallen soldier, a lost son, whose life was cut dreadfully short in the mountains of Afghanistan.

“This is not goodbye, but we will see you later. Rest in peace, my son.”

These words echoed throughout the church as the casket of 21-year-old Finley lay at the altar, draped with the flag he valiantly served during the final two years of his life.

Nothing was said. Nothing could be said. A silence swept across the church as six of the U. S. Army Honor Guard escorts carefully wheeled one of Lebanon’s finest past the weeping audience.

“I was absolutely shocked, and there was a moment of numbness. Then I just cried,” said close friend and high school classmate Trina Mizer. “I couldn’t do anything else but cry when I heard.”

As the service came to a close, the Finley family was met with waves upon waves of American flags fluttering gracefully, making a patriotic sea of Stars and Stripes, as they stepped outside the temple. Hundreds of people flooded onto Lynn Street paying their respects to a family who has paid the ultimate price.

It was truly a beautiful sight as the procession embarked for Finley’s final resting spot in Mount Rose Memorial Park. A convoy of Patriot Guard Riders motorcyclists, fire trucks, cars, pick-up trucks, minivans and SUVs, at least four miles long, slowly crept through the heart of Lebanon as they followed the town’s fallen hero.

Thousands of onlookers lined Jefferson Avenue as the procession passed. No amount of rain could have dampened the American spirit as Lebanon seemed to shut down in honor of a man who defended us abroad.

Few burgers were made, or coffee served, or checks cashed, or phone calls answered. There are no words that can explain unity shown on that somber afternoon. It seemed as though the entire population of Lebanon were standing side-by-side, bearing nothing more than an American flag and a heavy heart.

Spc. Finley is a hero, and he received the finest salute a hero could have.

Many of those who lined the streets of Lebanon knew the Finley family and the fallen soldier, while many did not.

Those who just happened to be passing through Lebanon Monday may been irritated by what they first assumed was a parade that was slowing traffic, but after spotting the flags held high and the procession, some stopped their vehicles and joined the community to mourn.

“I saw the police officers and the flags and I knew what had happened,” Brain Gideon of Sheldon, Mo. said. Gideon stopped his tractor-trailer rig on Jefferson Avenue, turned off the engine, exited the cab of the black Peterbilt and stood nearby the crowd that had gathered to pay tribute to Finley.

“Once I saw what was going on, I said to myself, ‘Yep. It’s time to stop.’ I stopped and got out of my vehicle out of respect for the young man. I set my brakes and I won’t move until it’s done,” he said as the procession passed under an American flag flying from the bucket of a Lebanon Fire Department ladder truck. “They sacrificed their lives, and appointments are just appointments. They can wait for something like this.”

At the cemetery Daniel Garcia, pastor of Heritage Temple, speaking on behalf of the Finley family, said the Rev. Finley, associate pastor at the church, forgave the suicide bombers for their ignorance.

“I know it was really hard for them, but, for the most part, I think they held together really well. That Wayne asked God to forgive the people who did this — it’s just amazing, and it was remarkable that the crowd and the community was here to support them. I believe the family is very heartbroken and hurt, but I think they also saw the support of those around them,” Rev. Garcia said.

Spc. Finley was honored by a written presentation from President George W. Bush with Bronze Star and Purple Heart medals.

Army Spc. James M. Finley ws killed in action on 5/31/08.

No comments: