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Spec. Michael Karr died March 31, 2004, at age 23 while riding in an armored personnel carrier that struck a roadside bomb near Habbaniyah, Iraq.
This week, his father Greg Karr traveled from his San Antonio home to Arlington National Cemetery to honor Karr, a medic who left the University of Texas in his junior year to join the Army.
“I was proud of him. He had the courage to follow what his heart was telling him to do,” Karr said of his son.
On a spectacular spring day in Virginia, the Defense Department held its fifth “Remembrance Ceremony” for fallen military medical personnel. The event memorializes corpsmen, medics, airmen, physicians and technicians who have died in combat since 2001 — a total of 296 as of December 2012.
Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs Dr. Jonathan Woodson said the ceremony is an opportunity to herald the sacrifices of military medical troops who “willingly put themselves in harms way when it mattered the most.”
“They knew the inhumanity of war and they chose to soothe it with their own humanity and skill,” Woodson told an audience of family members, medical personnel and the service surgeons general.
The deceased include medics like Army Sgt. Jesse Tilton, who died while treating a wounded soldier under enemy fire in Afghanistan in 2010, and Lt. Col. Mark Taylor and Sgt. Matthew Sandri, targeted by insurgents as they moved injured troops indoors in Fallujah on March 20, 2004.
“Their enduring legacy of selfless service binds them and all of us,” Woodson said.
Speakers Cami McCormick, a CBS Radio correspondent injured by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan in 2009, and Col. Greg Gadson, a double amputee who now serves as garrison commander of Fort Belvoir, Va., spoke of the lasting impact military medical personnel had on their lives.
McCormick recalled an afternoon at Walter Reed Army Medical Center when she met the medic who pulled her from the wreckage of the vehicle she had been riding in.
“The reason he became emotional seeing me is that I triggered for him the memory that he could not save Specialist Wheeler,” she said, referring to Abraham Wheeler, a soldier in the vehicle who was killed in the explosion. “Their most important job is to save lives and when they can’t do that, it hurts them very deeply.”
Gadson, three days shy of the sixth anniversary of the day he was wounded, delivered a moving tribute to the medical personnel who saved his life and allowed him to keep serving on active duty.
“On May 7, 2007, as my lifeless body lay on the side of a Baghdad road, Pfc. Brown got the tourniquets on my legs,” Gadson said. “That evening, I went through 129 pints of blood. Why the doctors didn’t give up on me, God only knows. I am truly humbled I am able to live my life because of heroes like your family members.”
Family members said they appreciated the opportunity to gather in a setting overlooking the Washington Monument, the Pentagon and Arlington National Cemetery’s Section 60, where many of their service members are buried.
Karr planned to spend the afternoon at his son’s grave, one of two that contains the mixed remains of Michael Karr and his comrades who died alongside him.
“I loved my son. Coming here was well worth it,” Karr said.