Stewart, Kasal honor veterans at CFHS assembly

By Willa Simmet 2008

On Nov. 13, 2004, during Operation Phantom Fury, considered to be one of the most brutal battles of the Iraqi War, Sergeant Major Brad Kasal found himself involved in mortal combat.

The attack began five days earlier in Fallujah, Iraq, with the intent of destroying the center stronghold of the insurgent’s territory in Iraq. While walking down the street, clearing buildings, Kasal discovered that several wounded Marines were trapped inside a two-story stucco and brick building. Kasal knew what he had to do.

“Marines love each other so much that they are willing to put each other through everything to help their fellow man,” Kasal said.

Kasal and his fellow Marines entered the building and began shooting for their lives and the lives of others. While shooting at an insurgent, another one came from behind Kasal’s back and shot him.

“All I could think about were the other Marines,” Kasal said. “That’s how I was able to keep going. Every once in a while I would think about myself and the pain, but I would quickly dispel it (the thought) and go back to worrying about the others.”

Right after Kasal was shot, he noticed the hand grenade flying in from out of nowhere. He instinctively protected the bloody Marine lying beside him. The shrapnel from the
grenade caused immense amounts of bleeding to Kasal.

Kasal was shot a total of seven times; five times in his right leg, once in his foot and once in his buttocks area, and he received 30 to 40 pieces of shrapnel in his back.

Fast-forward two years and two days to Nov. 16, 2006, inside Cedar Falls High School’s bustling gymnasium for the Veterans Day Assembly.

Students and staff are taking a break from their afternoon classes and shuffling into rows of wooden bleachers on either side of the gymnasium, the high school band is playing the national anthem, the choir prepares to sing and the Waterloo Color Detail stands next to its flags.

Kristy Stanfield, a CFHS senior, wears a shirt showing support for her father, Sgt. Timothy Stanfield whose helicopter was shot down while fighting in Fallujah in November 2003.
“When I hear the national anthem, it has more meaning,” Stanfield said.

Stanfield’s father retired from the Army in October 2006 after 20 years as a flight engineer for the National Guard.

The CFHS ceremony begins and Kevin Stewart, a CFHS Social Studies teacher, leads everyone in the Pledge of Allegiance. Stewart has been organizing the ceremony every year since the mid 1990’s.

“I hope the students have a new respect for veterans and a greater respect for the freedoms they have that these soldiers fought for,” Stewart said. “These students are the new generation called upon for the future of their country.”

Stewart introduces Kasal as a graduate of East Union High School in the small town of Afton, and as a hero who received 47 wounds while in Iraq, returning as a recipient of the second highest award for valor in the war, the Navy Cross.

The applause soared and Kasal took the floor. After assuring the crowd that war is an ugly thing, Kasal spoke of having to fight for what we believe in. He specifically remembered his time recovering in a California hospital. While he was leaving the hospital in his wheelchair after his rehabilitation session, a lady approached him and asked what happened. After telling her he was wounded fighting overseas, she launched into a long anti-war tirade. After listening to her protests, Kasal said, “M’am, you’re welcome,” and when she asked what he meant, he told her that efforts of veterans have entitled her to her free speech.

Kasal stressed the importance of students remembering and not taking for granted their freedoms and the veterans, like him, who fought for them. He closed by saying nothing is impossible, reminding the crowd that he wasn’t even expected to live, and is now walking and running.

After the ceremony, while discussing the award, a modest Kasal said, “A lot of people think valor is courage, but it’s more than that. While it does take courage to show valor, someone that is not courageous can show valor.”

He added, “I’d hope that regardless of their (students) beliefs, they will still recognize and thank service members for the sacrifices they made for their freedoms.”

Kasal said he wishes he could return to Iraq to help his troops defend the War on Terror, but he realizes that even when he is retired, it is his duty to support someone else. Kasal works as the head recruiter for the Marines in the Des Moines area. Kasal wants future Marines to be prepared to work hard, achieve the impossible and to join the family.

“My father always taught me that if someone has the capabilities to help someone else, then they should do so,” Kasal said. “That’s what I believe we are doing in Iraq.”

Regarding the current situation in Iraq, Kasal said, “You can’t expect it to happen overnight. We haven’t even cleaned up our own streets in New York and Los Angeles. How can it be expected for us to turn around a country oppressed for centuries when we don’t even have our own streets cleared up? It takes time.”

Kasal said he knows that the fight in Iraq comes at a price. A recent Johns Hopkins survey, published in The Lancet, said that over 600,000 Iraqis may have died since March 2003, which is higher than any other number previously reported, and, weighing these losses, Kasal said, “I know that before 2003, hundreds of thousands Iraqis also perished under Saddam Hussein. That doesn’t justify anyone dying now, but to get better it’s going to take sacrifices. Freedom never comes free.”

The day after the assembly, Stewart gave his thoughts on the assembly in an interview in his office with walls displaying memorabilia from his time spent in the Phillipines with the Marine Corps.

“I hope the students learned not to take their own liberties for granted because, like Kasal said, freedom does come with a price,” Stewart said. “America is an idea lived and fought for by a people. The flag is a symbol of our country’s history and dreams. America is what our forefathers set into motion.”

Stewart who has been putting together the ceremony since this summer said, “I thought the student body was awesome and very respectful, and Kasal’s whole message in his speech was very good.”

Stewart especially liked what Kasal said about freedom. He said he thinks that it’s incredibly important that people are involved with their country and are protecting the freedoms that they have.

“Part of the problem is that people are taking these liberties and forgetting the very people who helped obtain these successes,” Stewart said. “I’m not saying people have to join the military, but they could join Americorps, vote or be a productive citizen.”

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