Note from Justin: This post was originally published in 2020.
On a warm, summer day a 20-year-old, daring American lieutenant climbed into the cockpit of his French designed Nieuport 28, fighter bi-plane to do battle with the enemies of freedom. His mission was to defend against a German attack along the Marne river in northwest France. Engaged by three enemy aircraft, the American pilot was shot down and crashed behind German lines during the Second Battle of the Marne, the last major German offensive of WWI. The fallen pilot’s name was Quentin Roosevelt, the youngest son of America’s 26th President, Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt. The former President was devastated upon learning the news. He grieved until his own death six months later. The former First Lady, Edith Roosevelt, said after his death, “You cannot bring boys as eagles and expect them to turn out sparrows.”
On Memorial Day, I am thankful and blessed for knowing and serving alongside two warriors (and two pilots) that embodied the patriotic, eagle spirit of Quentin and so many others before them. I met these patriots while I studied military science at the University of Tennessee. They became both mentors and friends as I worked to earn a commission as a second lieutenant through the Rocky Top Battalion ROTC program.
Lieutenant Thomas, “T Willy” Williams was a year or two ahead of me in ROTC. I was green–coming into the ROTC program–later than most of my peers. While most ROTC cadets come into the program for 3 or 4 years, I was working toward an MBA, so I needed to complete it in 2 years. In other words, I was playing catch up. Though he was almost a year younger than me, Thomas stepped into the role of an older brother and mentor. He was extremely smart, quick-witted, and he had the heart of a teacher. He was very confident but not arrogant–an important trait for an effective Army leader. He instantly lit up a room and was the life of the party. But Thomas wasn’t just about having fun. He took very seriously his duty to nurture and train Soldiers to make the Army stronger. In doing so, he strengthened the Profession of Arms. I admired Thomas’ entrepreneurial spirit. He was a Tennessean on the fast-track to becoming a highly successful business man and leader of citizen Soldiers. We were both members of the Tennessee Army National Guard. After graduating from UT in 2009, I went to Ft. Huachuca to undergo training as an intelligence officer. Thomas went to Ft. Rucker to become an Army pilot. He died with Chief Warrant Officer Daniel Cole on July 9, 2011 when their Kiowa Warrior helicopter crashed during a training exercise in East Tennessee. I’ll always remember his infectious smile, his Volunteer spirit and his kindness.
Winston Churchill was fond of quoting the old French maxim, “On ne règne sur les âmes que par le calme, meaning, “One leads by calm.” This maxim captured the essence of Trevor Joseph’s leadership style. In ROTC, the fourth year cadets teach the more inexperienced third, second, and first year cadets. Trevor was a year group ahead of me, so he was often in instructor mode when I interacted with him. A West Tennessean, he was extremely intelligent. Contrary to most of our rambunctious peers, he projected a very calming demeanor. He chose his words carefully. When Trevor spoke, you listened. I gravitated toward his leadership style. He portrayed a quiet strength, a maturity beyond his years. In the chaos of war or training for war, you need leaders who are calm under pressure. Trevor met that criterion in spades. He married his high school sweet heart Erin in 2008 after receiving his commission in the Army and graduating UT. He became a medevac pilot. During a tour in Afghanistan, he saved the lives of two Soldiers and was awarded the Air Medal with Valor. He served two tours in Afghanistan and earned the rank of Major. His awards and decorations included the Bronze Star, Meritorious Service Medal, Air Medal with Valor, two Army Commendation Medals, Army Achievement Medal, Parachutist Badge and the Senior Service Medal. On September 26, 2019, Trevor died when his Blackhawk helicopter crashed at Ft. Polk, Louisiana during a JRTC rotation. I remember receiving the news from a fellow Rocky Top Battalion alum and being absolutely stunned and crushed. If you were working in a science lab and been charged with creating the profile of an American hero, you’d hope to God you’d end up with Trevor Joseph. Trevor was just the epitome of a servant and shepherd leader.
Thomas and Trevor are the best of us. They are both men of faith who volunteered to serve their country during a time of war. I use the present tense to describe them, because for everyone who is in Christ, the grave is not the end. They rest in peace, because one day, the Prince of Peace who defeated sin and death will raise them from the dead. He will bring all of His followers back from the grave (1 Corinthians 15) and destroy death forever (Isaiah 25:8).
They lived their lives fearlessly, willingly facing danger and hardship to protect the freedoms we enjoy. Please pray for their families and loved ones this Memorial Day and every day. May God give their loved ones the peace that passes all understanding (Philippians 4) and the hope that we will one day be reunited.
And may we be faithful to thank God daily that such men lived among us.
“We came here to thank God that men like these have lived rather than to regret that they have died.” – George S. Patton (honoring the fallen at a memorial ceremony in Palermo, Italy 1943)