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“So, what did you do in school today?” It’s the question I greet my daughter with every afternoon after she returns home from kindergarten. Usually, she recycles three jaded answers delivered with 5-going-on-16-year-old aplomb: “I don’t remember,” “I did the monkey bars,” and “I drank chocolate milk.”

This week was different. She came home yesterday bubbling about a new holiday art project: The Thankful Tree. “You trace your hands and cut them out and then you write what you’re thankful for on the hands,” my enthused daughter explained, “and then you paste them onto a paper tree!” She eagerly recited her thankful list from memory: “Friends. Food. My fish, Rainbow. And my little brother.” (Yes, in that order.)

This morning before leaving for school, my daughter decided we should make our own Thankful Tree at home and left me this question to ponder: “What are you thankful for, Mommy?”

Staring at my construction-paper hand, here’s what I have written in the palm: Our Troops. And in the five fingers, I’ve written these names of heroes who we’ll honor this Thanksgiving:

Tyrone L. Chisholm, 27, of Savannah, Ga. An Army sergeant and father of two, Chisholm was killed Nov. 11 when a string of roadside bombs exploded near his Abrams tank in Tall Afar, Iraq, along the Syrian border. He was assigned to the 2nd Squadron, 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment at Ft. Carson, Colo. His aunt, Delores Baron, said: “He was really excited about the Army. He was proud of what he was doing, and he died doing what he wanted to do: serve his country.”

Roger W. Deeds, 24, of Biloxi, Miss. A lance corporal in the Marine Corps and father of two, Deeds was among five Marines killed last week during Operation Steel Curtain in Ubaydi, Iraq, a terrorist stronghold also near the Syrian border. His mother, Joyce, said: “The Marine motto is ‘Semper Fi – always faithful.’ They have a saying that no one is left behind. And that’s how my son died … He was faithful to God, country and family.”

James S. Ochsner, 36, of Waukegan, Ill. An Army sergeant 1st class, Ochsner was killed last week when an improvised explosive device detonated near his armored Humvee during a supply distribution mission in Orgun, Afghanistan, near the Pakistani border. “He was going out to distribute some goods to the local people,” Ochsner’s father, Bob Ochsner of Beach Park, told the Chicago Sun-Times. “He loved the Afghan people; he really enjoyed them,” Bob Ochsner said of his son. Sgt. Ochsner believed it was his duty to serve in the armed forces, Bob Ochsner said.

Donald E. Fisher II, 21, of Avon, Mass. An Army corporal from a large military family, he was one of two soldiers killed Nov. 11 when their convoy vehicle was involved in an accident in the northern city of Kirkuk, Iraq. “Even as a young child growing up in Brockton, patriotism surged through Donald E. Fisher II,” wrote the Boston Globe. “‘We’re talking about a kid who, as a kid, cried because someone stole the flag off our flagpole,’ Donald Fisher of Tacoma, Wash., said of his son. ‘He was very committed.’”

James E. Estep, 26, of Leesburg, Fla. An Army staff sergeant and father of three, he was among four soldiers killed when an improvised explosive device detonated last week near their Humvee in Taji, Iraq, north of Baghdad. “He loved the military,” said his brother, Michael. “He loved doing his job.” His sister, Becky Buskill, added: “He died for a cause he believed in.”

Can we bow our heads in union for one day and give thanks for our men and women who choose to fight, refuse to lose, and believe in their mission? Can we do it without distorting their legacies and pandering to anti-American elites worldwide and using their deaths to embarrass and undermine our commander in chief?

This is my prayer and the start of our new family tradition. In small gestures, deep-rooted gratitude grows.


Editor’s note: Find the names and stories of those who have died in Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom at Honor the Fallen.

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