Friday, February 19, 2010

Marine Lance Cpl. Joshua H. Birchfield

Remember Our Heroes

Marine Lance Cpl. Joshua H. Birchfield, 24, of Westville, Ind.

LCpl Birchfield was assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, I Marine Expeditionary Force, Twentynine Palms, Calif.; died Feb. 19, 2010 while supporting combat operations in Helmand province, Afghanistan.

“He was a selfless human being,” said Wesley Bane, Joshua’s cousin, who said Joshua was also his close friend. “The reason he joined the Marines in the first place is because he saw a family that couldn’t be together for a holiday.”

Birchfield had seen a TV news segment about military families spending the holidays apart due to service, Bane said.

“I saw him the day after he saw it,” Bane said. “He was teary-eyed and told me he’d made the decision to join. He’s been my hero in Facebook ever since.”

Bane also described Birchfield as an “excellent baseball player.”

His personal service awards include the Purple Heart, Combat Action Ribbon, National Defense Service Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Sea Service Deployment Ribbon, and the NATO Medal.

Heartbreak is hitting hard across LaPorte and Porter Counties, as friends, family and a close knit community mourn the loss of Marine Lance Corporal Joshua Birchfield, 24, killed while serving in Afghanistan.
Birchfield was on his first deployment with the Marines and was stationed in the Helmand province with the 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, I Marine Expeditionary Force, based out of Twentynine Palms, Calif.

Birchfield, who had enlisted with the Marines in April 2008, will be awarded the Purple Heart. He also has been awarded the Combat Action Ribbon, National Defense Service Medal and four other medals.

Friends of Birchfield remembered him during the weekend, gathering at Blackhawk Inn, which he used to visit. People called him generous and how he wanted to fight for his country. Others said the 2004 Westville High School graduate was down to earth and funny. The American Legion Post 21 has posted a sign saying "LCPL JOSH BIRCHFIELD YOU ARE NOT FORGOTTEN -- WE LOVE YOU."

On a bright February afternoon filled with sunshine, Westville, Indiana sat under a cloud of sorrow. One by one, family and friends trickled in to Westville's Blackhawk Inn bar to share sadness and trade tears.

"The sacrifice he made for his country is definitely hitting me pretty hard," said Staff Sergeant Brandun Schweizer, one of Birchfield's good friends, who served three tours in Iraq. "He was a great, great individual; a truly great young man."

But, many in Westville Friday also spent Friday night sharing memories of a man they looked up to as a hero.

"It's extremely sad," said Steve Bachman, who called Birchfield his best friend. "But, as soon as the tears are gone, we're telling stories and remembering. This is a celebration. It's a celebration of him making the right decisions and becoming a man and doing what he was supposed to do."

By all accounts, Birchfield, a 2004 graduate of Westville High School lived to love life. There were stories Friday about his passion for softball and baseball--a sport he excelled at in high school.

"He was a big sports fan. We used to go to Cubs games and hang out. He was really into softball and we played in some leagues," said Schweizer.

There were tales of Birchfield's love for friends and family, and laughs over his contagious grin. "He would always bring a laugh and he'd always bring a smile to your face. And he'd do anything possible to do that," said Sergeant Brad Bruce, a fellow Marine and good friend of Birchfield's who served multiple tours in Afghanistan.

But, perhaps more than anything, there was a shared respect on Friday evening for a decision Birchfield made two years ago, that it was time for him to step up.

"He said he was tired of not going anywhere with his life. He wanted to get out there and do something meaningful," said Schweizer.

"He [enlisted in the Marine Corps] because he wanted to go," agreed Bachman. "He had a fine life here. He was doing well. He had a good job, good family, good people around him. But, he saw people with families that had their children back here living with grandparents while they're over there fighting for us. He was just a regular, single guy--22-years-old. And he said: what am I doing? Why don't I go help?"

It's precisely why Birchfield told Bruce he was enlisting. And that, Bruce said, meant more than anything. "I've been there. I know the dangers. He knew the risks and he was very aware. Josh and I talked quite a bit about that. But, Josh is the type of person who did it for the people he loved," Bruce said.

"He told me that he was now gonna do it for me," Bruce continued, pausing to control his emotions. "Because, that way I could be at home with my daughter, and I wouldn't have to worry anymore."

It's one major reason why so many have been hit so hard by the loss of a man who constantly served others.

"Josh would have celebrated the things we've done, and he touched so many people. He paid the ultimate price, but it didn't take that to make him a great man," Bruce said.

"This shows that he was a great young man," agreed Schweizer, pointing around the bar at the crowd of more than 50 people, growing by the minute. "He definitely made an impact on the community and the individuals here. It shows the type of person he was by how many people were so touched by him."

Now, all of them are forced to face the tough task of saying a final goodbye. As they do, many said they'll be remembering their final words with an American hero.

"We had just talked about golfing when he came back. I told him that I loved him, and that I was proud of him; to keep his head down and be safe. And I told him I would pray for him," Bruce said.

"It does make it a little more difficult not knowing exactly what happened to him, but knowing what happened is not going to bring him back or make his loss any easier," said Schweizer. "Right now, we're just remembering a great, great Marine and saying thank you. He's going to be missed."

Funeral services for Lance Corporal Joshua Birchfield have not been announced yet, but North Central Indiana's Chapter of "The Patriot Guard" say they've been asked to help escort Birchfield's body home as a tribute to his selfless service.

"We are mourning the loss of another one of our nation's heroes," said Patriot Guard Senior Ride Captain Dennis Francis. "His sacrifice allows us to do what we take for granted daily in our everyday lives. May God Bless and comfort LCpl. Birchfield and his family in the days ahead."

A man who answered the door Friday evening at the Birchfield residence, and identified himself only as Bruce, declined to comment, saying he was “still talking with the Marine Corps.”

Marine Lance Cpl. Joshua H. Birchfield was killed in action on 2/19/10.

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