- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 12, 2003

My father was in the Marine Corps during the Korean War. He never talked much about it to my brother, sister or me and still doesn’t to this day. It’s been called the “forgotten war,” and for most of my generation it’s just that. I can’t recall studying anything about it in school or even hearing anything about honoring its veterans. It’s only now that I have spent nearly three months in a combat zone and saw the routines of our military’s heroism, that I can even begin to fully appreciate what my dad went through.

Neither my brother nor I were ever in the military, and for the most part it has never been an experience that was significant to our family. My dad didn’t receive a Medal of Honor or a Purple Heart. We don’t have pictures of him in uniform on the walls at home. He did his duty and went on to further his career on the GI bill. The only thing I can be sure of is that he turned out to be one great father.

Four months ago, on the day before I left for Kuwait, my father wished me well and told me that he always believed “one member of the family in a war was enough for him.” At the time, I didn’t think much of it because I had no way to know what he had seen, or what I would see. I had a lot more on my mind as I packed my bags and began to mentally prepare for the unknown. I would soon spend 44 days on the front lines of Operation Iraqi Freedom serving as Lt. Col. Oliver North’s cameraman and field producer for Fox News Channel as an embedded journalist with Marine Medium Helicopter Unit HMM 268, “The Red Dragons.”

There were many engagements and incidences that could have easily taken my life. A memorable one occurred during the opening phases of the war, as our unit was airlifting American and British forces into the Al Faw peninsula in southern Iraq to fight for control of the oil fields. Col. North was in the lead bird, I in the second, and the third of nearly 50 helicopters crashed immediately behind mine, killing everyone aboard. These were the first casualties of the war, and I was a witness to something that I had never seen before — the ultimate sacrifice that our men and women in times of war are willing to make without hesitation.

Those guys are heroes, and there were many more like them who we would cover before the combat operations ended. I had lived, eaten and slept with these courageous Marines, and for the most part they had accepted my as one of their own. They even shaved me head as a rite of passage. And yet, I wondered, what was my father like during times like these?

Well, now I know. I went there and did it. I slept under a starry sky full of tracer rounds hoping that one wouldn’t land on us, not knowing what the next day would bring. I fumbled in the dark for a dry pair of socks while obeying the “no light” rule so the enemy couldn’t spot us. And if it had come to it, I was willing to give my own life to save another’s, as our helicopters stormed into the presidential palace in Baghdad, taking casualties out of the battlefield to the field hospitals.

My brother told me when I got back that the whole family watched Ollie’s reports on television with great concern. What really struck me was that our father was more involved and inquisitive than anyone. After all, he knew what I was going through and he had been there before — not in Iraq, but in a small unit of Marines in a foreign land fighting for their lives and the lives of others.

We must all be eternally grateful to those men and women who paid that ultimate price for our freedom. Personally, I have a few visits to make to the wives and children of the guys I got to know pretty well before they too paid with their own lives. And this Father’s Day, I can’t wait to call my dad and tell him that now I understand a few things I didn’t before and that he is a “hero” too and thank him. Every American owes that sense of gratitude to all like him and the many who are still in Iraq, as well as those who will surely follow. No one wants to go to war, but I was fortunate enough to spend 10 weeks with those who have the courage to accept that responsibility to risk their lives so that we can have a safe and happy Father’s Day. We’re a better nation for their having done it. Thanks, Dad.

Griff Jenkins was an embedded field producer and cameraman for Fox News Channel during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

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