FORT HOOD, Texas-- Today our nation honors our Gold Star Mothers and Families; the recognition of their servicemember who died while serving in a time of conflict. Every third Sunday of September since 1936 we call for a pause to reflect on the loved ones lost, and the impact they had in our lives.
The 3d Cavalry Regiment lost many Troopers over the years… today we honor one Gold Star family of Capt. Joshua Byers, commander of Fox Troop, Sabre Squadron, who deployed during Operation Iraqi Freedom was killed in Ar Ramadi, Iraq, July 23, 2003, when his convoy hit an improvised explosive device.
“Josh was quite the patriot as a child,” Mary Byers, Joshua’s mother, said. “I remember him saying, ’I’m going to serve my country…’ he was seven. Later, when he was in the seventh grade, he sent letters to the military academies, requesting their college catalogs because it was the 90s. They all responded something like, ‘We’re glad you’re excited to serve the military, but we don’t send out info until you’re a junior in high school.’”
His initial interest started around the time he went to his first airshow with the Air Force, and said he wanted to fly jets, then over the years drifted in interest to the Navy, before deciding on the Army after learning of the West Point's Cadet Honor Code: "A Cadet will not lie, cheat, steal, or tolerate those who do,” which came to be a reflection of the kind of serviceman he wanted to be.
Joshua graduated from West Point, married in 1998, and after some time as an Aide de Camp, was then assigned to 3d Armored Cavalry Regiment at Fort Carson, Colorado. He had a great ambition to become a company commander, and after deploying to Iraq he got his chance. He was a company commander for only 40 days, however, before the attack.
“He was one of 49 troopers the Regiment lost in OIF-1,” said Col. (Ret.) David Teeples, the honorary Colonel of the Regiment, who served with Byers during this deployment. “It is difficult to put into words all the emotions associated with losing a Soldier. Even harder when the Soldier was close to you and they were in harm’s way everyday.
Josh’s company was moving to another location in the area, and the lead vehicle radioed that there was a problem with it and they had to stop, so he volunteered to be the lead vehicle. Josh’s driver met with the Byers family some years after his death and he told them his last words. “I can’t get them out of my mind… I thought you guys should know,” he said.
“’Keep moving forward!’ He was trying to get us out of the way in case there was something else, and I floored it. Our vehicle moved a bit before it was completely disabled, and then the I turned to him, and he was gone.”
Hearing this for the first time changed a lot of things for Mary and her family. “Those words stay with me. There’s a lot of days that I don’t want to, sometimes I can almost hear him saying, ‘get out of bed mom.’”
“Gold Star Families represent the great sacrifice our Nation makes in the cause of freedom,” said Teeples. “The loss of our sons and daughters in service to country creates a painful absence, a void that can only be partially filled by honoring their memory.”
Mary found the American Gold Star Mothers Inc. only about four years after her son’s passing, and came to realize that self-contained grief is self-destructive, so she began to connect herself with the organization and eventually served as the organization’s national president in 2012-2013.
“It helps us to share. It’s not easy, but I’m thankful that someone still wants to hear the story. We have stayed close to some of the Troopers that he served with.”
“One thing that I would tell someone in the military- I know it’s hard, but if you know someone that passed, talk to their family. It’s the greatest gift to hear about their experiences with our son. I can’t urge that enough.”
Mary’s last piece of advice is for all of the Gold Star Families. “It’s a hard task. You’ll never have closure when you lose a child. I encourage you that you can do this… it’s a miracle that I’m still here, but work on your grief and get any support that you can.”