This story has the weight of tragedy in it too, but it is qualitatively different. In this tragedy we can find meaning, a transcendent meaning worthy of human beings.
On March 22, 2012, a twenty-nine-year old soldier from Providence, Rhode Island, Spc. Dennis Weichel, Jr., died in Afghanistan. But it was the way that he died that makes us proud of him, and of the person he was.
Spec. Weichel was in a convoy with his Rhode Island National Guard unit when they came across some Afghan children who were in the road. They were picking up spent brass shells, which they often recycle, or sell for added income. When Weichel and others got out to move them off the road, most of them walked away, but one little girl went back to pick up more shell casings.
It was then that Weichel realized that one of the unit's huge, armored vehicles bearing down on the girl. He never hesitated. He ran into the road to push her out of the way, but was subsequently struck by the twenty-six-ton vehicle himself. He died of his injuries shortly thereafter. The girl is fine.
What makes a human being do this? The answer is simple, I think. He did that because he saw that little girl as a fellow human being, an innocent child just trying to glean a little extra income for her family. There were no politics in this act. There was no hesitation. He acted out of his own humanity. He did not want to die. He wanted to save that little girl. He didn't see her as expendable.
At about the same time that this event took place, another U.S. soldier is accused of having gone out in the middle of the night and killing seventeen Afghan villagers, most of them children. We have heard plenty about that tragedy, but not much at all about Spec. Weichel's act of self-sacrifice.
The sadness of Dennis Weichel's loss for his family, and for all of us, is maybe softened a little by the fact of the manner and the meaning of his death. He died saving the life of a little girl who did not know him, who did not share his language, his religion, or his culture. The only thing they shared was their mutual humanity and innocence.
This is a story of true courage and true humanity. Spec. Dennis Weichel was posthumously promoted to the rank of sergeant and will be awarded a Bronze Star. This act of bravery is not the usual kind we see in war. But in some very real way, it is a bravery that reveals the real value and worth of our humanity.
We thank you, Sgt Dennis Weichel, for showing us something better about our human potential. Sgt. Weichel leaves behind three children, his fiancé and his parents. We hold them too in our thoughts and prayers.