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November 18, 2009

A Fallen Hero Comes Home….

Kevin E. Dayhoff

As I surveyed the huge display of American flags and the mass of community that showed-up at the Union Bridge fire hall on Monday morning to pay their final respects to Marine Staff Sergeant Charles Isaac Cartwright; I could not help but think of the famous quote: “Where do we get such men?”


Marines from all over the world attended the service. To be there was truly inspiring and reinforced my belief that our nation’s men and women in uniform are incredible.


SSgt. Cartwright, 26, of Union Bridge, was a 2001 Walkersville High School graduate, who gave his final full measure of devotion to our country on November 7 while supporting combat operations in Farah Province, Afghanistan. He was assigned as a member of Marine Special Operations Company A, serving his fifth overseas tour, three in Iraq and one previously in Afghanistan.


More than 500 people crowded into the social hall at the fire station Monday to pay their respects to a friend, family member, loved-one, schoolmate, fellow parishioner – and fallen hero.


Writing about fallen heroes such as SSgt. Cartwright is a difficult task, yet it must be done in order for the greater community to know and appreciate the legacy of such an inspiring young man.


And so that we may know just “Where do we get such men?”


Our hearts and prayers go out to his family, his widowed wife and his friends and colleagues left behind.


I attended the services as a former elected official who had also once briefly and unremarkably served in the Marine Corps Reserve. Originally I was not going to write about it…


What changed my mind was a conversation I had, after the services, with Major Gen. Mastin M. Robeson, who commands the Marine Corps Special Operations Command based in Camp Pendleton, Calif., and Camp Lejeune, N.C.


He attended the services and spent time talking with members of Cartwright’s Marine unit, Cartwright’s family and Cartwright’s wife of 11 months.


We talked about the incredible men and women in uniform and then General Robeson said he was impressed with the local community support for the Cartwright family, America’s armed forces – and the Marine Corps in particular. He told me I should write about it.


“This is incredible… Please share with the community how much we appreciate your support,” said General Robeson.


Gunnery Sgt. Daniel A. Donahue, with Company B, 4th Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion in Fort Detrick, said he was not surprised the two-star general came to the funeral.


“He’s all about the families,” said Sgt. Donahue.


All of which reminded me of the quote: “Where do we get such men?” It may be found a number of times in history.


It is the last line of the 1954 movie adaption of the novel by James Michener, “The Bridges of Toko-Ri.” The real “Toko-Ri” bridges were the Majon-ni and Changnim-Ni bridges in what we now know as North Korea.


The movie is a period piece, starring William Holden and Grace Kelly, and any film-addict will tell you it is worth your time. The essential ingredient of the plot is that the mission is successfully completed because of uncommon bravery – despite gut-wrenching losses.


It is story repeated over and over again when it comes to the unbridled heroism of our young men and women in uniform in combat, whether it is at Majon-ni and Changnim-Ni, Fallujah, Iraq or Farah province, Afghanistan.


The task requires Herculean efforts, in the most trying of circumstances and daunting conditions and yet they do it day-in and day-out and never ask for anything in return, much less attention or gratitude.


Another reference to the theme may be found in the 1974 speech by then-California Gov. Ronald Reagan upon the return of the POWs from North Vietnam. In that reference he answered his own question by saying, “We find them in our streets, in the offices, the shops, and the working places of our country and on the farms.”


In the case of SSgt Cartwright, our country found him right here on the Frederick County side of Union Bridge.


The service was officiated by Rev. Richard L. Michael, of St. James Lutheran Church, and Rev. Ernest Thayil, of the Cartwright family church, Johnsville United Methodist.


Rev. Michael reflected that in this life, “We don’t know where we are going, so how can we know the way?”


Candidly, it is the example of the heroism and leadership of SSgt. Cartwright that shows us the way.


Last fall, the web publication, “One Marine’s View,” reported on a temporary exhibit at the National Museum of the Marine Corps in Triangle, VA, just outside the Quantico Marine Corps Base, titled “Where Do We Get Such Men?”


It marked the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the October 23, 1983, terrorist attack on the headquarters of Battalion Landing Team 1, 8th Marines, in Beirut, Lebanon, which killed 241 Americans, including 238 Marines.


One Marine’s View reported: “The title is taken from the text of Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Paul X. Kelley’s welcome to the Marines and sailors who survived the bombing and returned to Camp Lejeune, N.C.:


“When I met the first flight of your fallen comrades as they arrived at Dover, DE, after the mass murder of 23 October, I asked the question, Lord, where do we get such men?


“As you stand here today I ask the same question. Where do we get such men of courage – such men of dedication – such men of patriotism – such men of pride? The simple answer is that we get them from every clime and place, from every race, from every creed, and from every color.”


We also get such men of courage from Union Bridge. God Bless SSgt. Cartwright and his family for their service and sacrifice. Semper Fi.


Kevin Dayhoff writes from Westminster. E-mail him at



[Editor’s Note: “The Bridges of Toko-Ri,” will be broadcast by Turner Classic Movies at 10 P.M. Thursday night (November 19). Check your local listings for the cable or satellite channel number.]

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