When a soldier travels to a place like Iraq and Afghanistan, he or she leaves behind all of the same things you and I take for granted.  Families, friends, jobs, hobbies, pets…everything that makes our life good is left behind waiting for their return.  Tragically, many will never come home, and some that do will never be the same.  There have been over 5600 soldiers killed in both Iraq and Afghanistan, which means there are too many families to count, grieving this Memorial Day.  Here are just two stories of soldiers that loved cars as much as you and I.

Army Staff Sgt Jacob Thompson, from North Mankato, MN was 26 years old when he was killed while performing a house-to-house search in Baqubah, Iraq.  Just weeks before he left for the military, Jacob had decided to purchase a new Dodge Charger.  His father couldn’t understand why his son would buy a new car, and let it depreciate while he was away, but Jacob’s answer was “Dad, I don’t know if I am going to come back.  I want to have one muscle car in my life, I want to experience that.”  Of course, now his father completely understands the reasoning, and said “He was right, why shouldn’t he have done that.  He deserved it.”  Jacob was one of three brothers, the youngest and was very close to his brother Jason.  When Jacob was home last on leave, he told Jason “If anything should happen to me, that new Charger would belong to Lucas,” Jason’s three year old son.

Jason led a unit in a Stryker brigade, searching forward targets and then calling in support if they had trouble.  Jacob loved his job in Iraq, and enjoyed getting to know the Iraqi people, especially the children.  He loved showing videos of himself riding bicycles or playing soccer with groups of the young friends he had met there, and would hand out stuffed animals to the children, which were sent in care packages by his mother.

Army Captain Raymond D Hill II, of Turlock, CA was killed when an improvised explosive device (IED), detonated near his Humvee, while on patrol operations in Baghdad.  Captain Hill was 39 years old, and had deployed twice, once after 9/11 to protect the borders of Kuwait, and then again in 2005 to Iraq.  Captain Hill loved cars, and bought himself a 1965 Ford Mustang to restore.  The car sat around for a few years with little work done, until one day his brother lent it to a friend, who wrapped it around a telephone pole.  Flash forward and Captain Hill had again found another Mustang to restore, though this one needed serious work, and his wife Dena felt they couldn’t afford the restoration.  Eventually, Dena conspired with her father in law and Hill’s brother Rod, purchasing the vehicle for Hill as a birthday gift.

A year before he went to Iraq, Captain Hill decided it was time to start on the Mustang project, but work never progressed far, before he was redeployed and then killed in 2005.  After his death, the Mustang sat with brother Rod, who was able to have the car restored through donations from friends and strangers.  People who read about Captain Hill’s death knew how important that car would be to the family, and donated time, and over $15,000.00 for its restoration.  The car was then displayed at a local car show, in which the family was invited.  Hill’s daughters, BreeAnna and Alyssa thought they were going to look at cars, but in fact, one Mustang was his, and completely restored.  They were shocked when the Rob handed them the keys, telling them it was now theirs.  Afterwards, the family drove the car down to the cemetery where Cpt. Raymond Hill was laid to rest.

This Memorial Day, as we enjoy our parties and barbecues with family members, I hope each of us takes the time to think about the people who have died for our country.  These soldiers, most of them very young, gave up their lives to join the military and to protect us.  Each year, one day is set aside for us to honor them, and each of us should visit the grave of a lost soldier, attend a memorial service, or do something to support the troops that are still with us.  Happy Memorial Day.

REPRINTED FROM 2010

Photos courtesy of Google Images

Article courtesy of Chris Raymond