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Never forget

Feb 22 2020
Matt Harvey |The Exponent Telegram

It’s sad that Kobe Bryant passed away in a helicopter crash. And it also was sad that Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, John Belushi, John Candy, Thurman Munson and many, many others died at young or relatively young ages.

And there can be a feeling of loss, even though we didn’t know them personally and they didn’t provide anything to us but entertainment. In the case of Bryant, fans will pay up to $224 to pack the Staples Center in Los Angeles on Monday to honor Bryant and his daughter, who also died in the crash.

But if we’re going to immortalize entertainers and athletes, we probably ought to also immortalize another group of individuals, a very large group.

Bluntly, they’ve done a lot more for us, but don’t always get the same “props.”

Here are five of the many:

— Deputy Marshal Derek Hotsinpiller, who was mortally wounded Feb. 16, 2011, while he, two other deputy marshals and state troopers served an arrest warrant in Randolph County.

Deputy U.S. Marshal Hotsinpiller could have done a lot of different things with his life. But his family had a strong tradition in law enforcement, and he wanted to follow in that.

There are many times I will pass outside the federal building in downtown Clarksburg, and I’m glad the sign for the Derek W. Hotsinpiller Federal Center is there to remind me about him.

And then there’s his brother, who has never backed down from his own commitment to law enforcement that preceded Derek’s. In my book, that took a heck of a lot of courage. Or his mother, who continues to be a key contributor to this community in so many ways.

Every summer, hundreds of people turn out for a footrace in Bridgeport that’s in Derek’s honor, and that helps fund the scholarship set up in the name of Derek and his father, Jim.

Derek made a difference every single day he put on that U.S. Marshals Service badge.

And that’s remembered every year at this time by deputy marshals, other members of law enforcement and many more who visit his gravesite, share posts about him on social media and otherwise keep alive his memory.

— Staff Sgts. Javier J. Gutierrez, 28, of San Antonio, and Antonio R. Rodriguez, 28, of Las Cruces, New Mexico.

According to The New York Times, Gutierrez served in the infantry in Iraq, then served as a Green Beret in Afghanistan.

And Rodriguez, an Army Ranger and later in Special Forces, deployed to Afghanistan not once, not twice, not three times — but 10 times, according to The New York Times.

While we were living our lives like nothing like this could be happening in the world, they were attacked by an Afghan Army soldier who they thought was on their side, and who used an American M249 to spray them with bullets.

— Quiet Dell / Fairmont Marine Hershel “Woody” Williams, who as a 21-year-old Marine corporal in World War II used a flamethrower and explosives to shut down seven concrete machine gun nests manned by Japanese on Iwo Jima.

Of the five listed here, Williams is the only one who wasn’t killed. But if you don’t think he did much, you’re crazy. The flamethrowers he carried were basically bombs strapped to Williams’ back, with Japanese soldiers trying to set them off with a bullet or shrapnel, which would have immolated Williams, or just trying to put a bullet into him, period, because he was making it pretty darned hot for them. And that’s not to mention the explosives that Williams was handling — and all this under fire in one of the toughest battles the Marines have ever fought.

Williams was awarded the Medal of Honor for his action 75 years ago Sunday, and at age 96, is one of only two Medal of Honor recipients still living from World War II.

— Staff Sgt. Earl Frederick Brown, a Green Beret from C Company, 5th Special Forces Group.

He was killed Jan. 29, 1965, on his second tour of duty in Vietnam, about 8,640 miles away from his home in Weston, during an ambush in the Trà Bồng District located on the country’s South Central Coast. Staff Sgt. Brown, a medic, was with three other Special Forces soldiers — who also were killed — and Montagnard tribesmen, according to his daughter, Melanie Brown Sabol, 56, of Maryland. Two of the U.S. troops were killed almost immediately; the other two, including Brown, took cover and returned fire, but were attacked and killed when night fell.

Staff Sgt. Brown had moved his wife and 3 1/2-year-old daughter back to Weston just prior to his second tour of duty. He told his wife he wanted them near family because “this is not a good place to go. I’m pretty sure I’m not coming back from this.”

Ms. Sabol’s mother never remarried, although she had a couple of suitors, according to Ms. Sabol. Part of the reason: Her mother didn’t want to lose the Veterans Affairs benefits that were helping her raise her child.

Ms. Sabol’s mother and Ms. Sabol herself sacrificed for their country in their own way. And like the sacrifice of the Hotsinpiller family, and the families of Sgts. Gutierrez and Rodriguez, that was a huge ask.

Today, Ms. Sabol’s mother is in an assisted-living facility, while Ms. Sabol has children and grandchildren.

And she also has never forgotten her father, even though she acknowledges she isn’t sure if she has any memories of him of her own.

“From what I’ve been able to find out, he was very intelligent, very charming, very outgoing,” Ms. Sabol says. “My mom said he was the handsomest man she ever met,” and her mother added that she “couldn’t imagine what Fred Brown saw in her.”

In high school, Staff Sgt. Brown was well-liked, was an actor, and also a musician, Ms. Sabol said.

And to those who served with him? “He was a soldier’s soldier. He loved what he did, and he believed in what he did. ... I think he was a very honorable man.”

I think Staff Sgt. Brown was, too. I think Hershel “Woody” Williams is. I think Deputy U.S. Marshal Derek Hotsinpiller was, and Gutierrez and Rodriguez, who were promoted after their deaths to sergeants first class, were, as well. Very, very honorable servants of our country, just as there have been so many others before them, and so many more who continue to serve as soldiers, as law enforcement officers, as firefighters, as paramedics, and in so many other ways.

Take time today to think about all those you’ve known, or even those you didn’t personally know, who made a big difference in your community.

If you want, organize a celebration in their honor. Heck, maybe one day a year, open up the doors to the WVU Coliseum for it, but tell the politicians to stay home. Or since Mountaineers understand what a life of service is more than most, maybe it would take Mountaineer Field to handle the crowd.

But most of all, never forget.