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Sen. Mike Lee: Understanding no greater love

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Col. Gail S. Halvorsen, known as the Candy Bomber, is shown in a black-and-white photo.

Gail Halvorsen, one of the LDS Church members featured in “Meet the Mormons,” is known as the “candy bomber.”

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

“In his hour of death, as in his way of life, he set the highest standard. He was truly a Christian, a scholar and a gentleman, and one whose heroic example will always be an inspiration to those of us who knew and loved him.” 

Those words were written by U.S. Navy Adm. A. C. Pickens in a letter delivered to the widow of Capt. Mervyn Bennion. Bennion gave his life on Dec. 7, 1941, and now rests in the Salt Lake City Cemetery. 

He was 54 and in command of the USS West Virginia when shrapnel tore into his gut. A subordinate rushed to the commander and applied a bandage. That was all the help Bennion would accept. He sent the pharmacist’s mate below deck to care for the others. 

Instead of retreating, Bennion continued commanding. As his lifeblood drained, he stood tall and in the fight. As his remaining time on earth dwindled, this proud son of Utah showed “conspicuous devotion to duty, extraordinary courage, and complete disregard of his own life, above and beyond the call of duty.”

That’s how the Medal of Honor citation describes the last hours of a life laid down for friends. Greater love hath no man than that. 

On this Memorial Day, we have the opportunity once again to acknowledge the debt we owe to those men and woman who answered the call, donned the uniform, and gave all so that we might be free. 

American greatness exists because there are men and women like Capt. Mervyn Sharp Bennion. As Mrs. Bennion tragically learned in 1941, many of those brave men and woman don’t come home. 

The list of Americans who have given all and fought alongside those whose lives were lost in the pursuit and defense of freedom is innumerable. This Memorial Day provides an apt opportunity to look to the heavens and give thanks. As the beneficiaries of these sacred sacrifices, our gratitude ought to be ever present and eternal. 

We give thanks to Maj. Brent Russell Taylor of North Ogden who lost his life during a 2018 insider attack in Afghanistan. His exemplary commitment to God, family and country defines his legacy. 

Taylor once said, “… we have far more as Americans that unites us than divides us.” His words were true when he spoke them, and they remain true today. We are united in the liberties his life was given to defend. 

We give thanks to the brave and creative soldiers who lost their lives while serving in the Ghost Army, the 23rd Headquarters Special Troops. Joseph Passaro, Chester Pelliccioni, Staff Sgt. George Peddle and Capt. Thomas Wells all died while defending our nation. 

The Ghost Army used inflatable tanks, sound effects, radio trickery and impersonation to fool the Germans on the battlefields of Europe. Staff Sgt. Stanley Nance, a Utah centenarian who fought alongside the fallen, described his role as one designed to save lives; to save the lives of other soldiers so that “one new wife or one mother (could be) spared putting a gold star in their front window.” 

The bare and brutal truth is that many wives and mothers did hang gold stars in their front windows. For this reason, I stand behind a congressional effort to award the Ghost Army a Congressional Gold Medal — a mere token of our nation’s gratitude for a debt that can only be repaid by living our lives as free and productive as we can. 

We give thanks to the airmen and women who have defended freedom from the heavens since man first conquered the sky. Their work has always been conducted at great risk to life and limb. Many lost their lives, but their legacies endure. 

Utah’s own Col. Gail Halvorsen, the Candy Bomber, still mourns the death of one of his “best school buddies” who was shot down and killed by the Germans. That mourning turned to motivation once Halvorsen embarked on the mission that would define him: a mission to drop candy from the sky to starving children during the Berlin Airlift. 

Halvorsen’s compassion — motivated by loss and love — helped to heal the wounds of World War II and ensure that the lives lost were not lost in vain. 

I will be proposing before the U.S. Senate that the Vet Center in Provo be renamed after Col. Gail S. Halvorsen as not only a token of our gratitude to the Candy Bomber himself, but also as a recognition of the sacrifices made by those early airmen and women who fought for freedom alongside this proud and enduring son of Utah. 

While we, the enjoyers of liberty, ought to be ever mindful of the lives given for our freedoms, today is a special day. Today is a day set aside to memorialize that the record of American greatness is illuminated by the graves of her fallen.

Sen. Mike Lee is the senior United States senator from Utah.