This Could Have Been Me

By Kevin Nah, Uniting Distant Stars Intern from University of Minnesota Duluth

For many of us, we have been fortunate enough to have access to quality education throughout our lives. The same opportunities we sometimes take for granted aren’t available to many others. Uniting Distant Stars is excellent when it comes to making education accessible to many youths, particularly in Liberia. Liberia is a nation on the rise filled with young people, who are tirelessly working to achieve their goals and provide a bright future for the country.

The current “Become a Classroom Hero” campaign is something that really resonates with me as a Liberian.  The purpose of this initiative, to raise money to provide training materials for youth in Liberia, so they can gain valuable skills and experience, is very admirable. I believe it speaks to the dedication and commitment that Uniting Distant Stars has to its students. They are bringing hope to a nation that has had many obstacles in its path.

As many may not know, Liberia went through a period of civil war which lasted from 1989 – 2003. As you can imagine, it was a time of violence and chaos which made it difficult for many people. I was born in 1996 in the midst of all that was going on in the country. My family and I were fortunate to make it out of the country and immigrate to the United States. As I grew older I heard stories of all the terrible things that occurred during the war, and how many people struggled daily to find food, water, and even education. Hearing these stories gave me a new perspective on how fortunate I was to be where I am now.

Even as I rose through the ranks at school, it was always important to be appreciative of the fact that I am in a place where I am able to receive a quality education. There are times when I stop to think…what if my situation was completely different than it is now? If my family and I hadn’t left Liberia when we did, would I still have the same opportunities I have had in my life? It’s easy to lose sight of what is important when we have it all in front of us. Uniting Distant Stars and the “Become a Classroom Hero” initiative has given me an opportunity to impact the lives of the youth in Liberia that are working relentlessly to create a brighter future not just for themselves, but for their nation.

As a final thought, education is a gift that should be shared with everyone. In the same way that someone took the time to invest in us when we were young, we can all do the same and make a positive impact in the life of someone else.

The Greatest Sacrifice

Today, as we honor all those who have ever served in the United States military, we
must remember with grateful hearts the young men and women who do not make it back home. We must
especially honor and support their families, because their loved ones’ sacrifices
are too hard to bear alone. Regrettably, there is very little public acknowledgement of soldiers who are killed in the line of duty.
This became all too clear to me while waiting for my
flight at Dallas/Fort Worth airport. For about an hour, I sat next to a woman from
Seattle who had just buried her 26-year-old son at Arlington Cemetery on Wednesday, November 7.
He had served nine years with the Army and was killed by a roadside bomb in
Afghanistan on October 27.
She shared with me her heartbreaking journey of the past week. She
explained how her son’s casket had been flown from Afghanistan to Fort Hood, Texas, which was where he had been stationed. She hadn’t realized that the military is not responsible for the
arrangements or the cost of transporting our fallen heroes to Arlington.
Fortunately, she received amazing service from Southwest Airlines,
which treated her son with great respect and only charged her $99 to transport him.
Overwrought with emotion, this bereaved mother could not bring herself to fly
with her son to Arlington. So it was arranged for her nephew, a Marine, to
accompany his cousin. Since these young men served in different
military branches, the nephew had to get permission to oversee the transportation of his cousin’s body. Southwest Airlines put him in First Class in appreciation for his
service and special role.  He never lost
sight of his cousin, from being placed into the plane to being laid to rest in
The mother and her sister made the long journey from Texas to Virginia by road. At its end, she faced the reality of saying goodbye to the
middle son of three, who was married and left behind a 6-year-old daughter
and adopted son a few years older.
She said the ceremony was quite moving, with the color guard
and other vets standing at attention. She became unnerved though, during the 21-gun salute. After the service, she asked her sister to take her to the nearest bar, so she could try to calm down with a drink or two. Her sister was quite surprised by her request since she is not one to drink, but the experience of burying her son, a soldier, was more than she could bear.
It turns out that her son comes from a long line of family members who have
served in the U.S. military going back to the Civil War. Her grandfather served in
WWII. Her father was in the Air Force during the Vietnam war and was laid to
rest in Arlington two years ago. She herself served in the Navy for 11 years
and is also a four-year survivor of breast cancer. When she mentioned
this she showed me the pink ribbon tattooed on her wrist, which her three sons also gotten to support her.
Speaking both as a veteran and mother of a son who gave his life in
service to our nation, she spoke her wish that all the
deployed sons/daughters, husband/wives and sisters/brothers will soon return safely. She
shared that over 100 soldiers are buried at Arlington each week, Monday through Friday. These young people sacrificed their
lives for our nation, and yet the major media outlets fail to
acknowledge them.
As they called us to board the plane, she showed me her black
ribbon with the U.S. flag and picture of her son. We said our farewells and
wished each other a safe journey to our respective destinations. I can say I
was humbled to sit by this courageous woman and expressed my gratitude for her entire family’s service and sacrifice. It was a privilege to provide her some comfort
and support by simply listening to her story of pain and anguish over losing her
beloved,very handsome son. Also, to honor his memory and
how his light brightened the lives of the people around him. But most
importantly, to acknowledge that he had made the greatest sacrifice for our
nation which should not be forgotten.
This was a Veterans Day that I will never forget. Thank
you to all those who have served and died for our freedoms! This is my tribute to all
of our fallen heroes whose stars forever shine.