Almost every young man or woman who’s joined the armed forces through time has shared their experiences from boot camp through battle in letters to their parents, loved ones and friends at home.
My father, Curt, was a prolific letter writer during World War II. My grandmother, thankfully, saved those letters and willed them to my mother who, in turn, left them for my family and me. They’re some of my most precious possessions.
In that vein, I’d like to share some thoughts of a young man who embodied the sacrifice of the 6,431 American service members who have lost their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan.
His name is Michael Mihalakis. By his own reckoning, he had lived a comfortable life as a kid growing up in Milpitas. After attending Cuesta College, he enlisted in the Army and wrote to his parents, George and Diana Mihalakis, from basic training on Nov. 2, 2002:
“Well, I made it to basic training. This is the most intense thing I have ever gone through. These drill sergeants never let up. Their goal is to find your breaking point. They succeeded with finding the breaking point with many soldiers, but have not touched mine. Sure, it’s hard all the time, and sure, I hope every night that I will wake up in San Luis Obispo the next morning.”
May 26, 2003, from Kuwait: “As I sit on my cot counting the drips of sweat falling to the desert floor, I think back to basic training and now understand why they pushed us so hard.”
Army Spc. Michael Mihalakis was 18 when he flipped his Humvee on Dec. 26, 2003, at Baghdad International Airport. He subsequently died from his injuries. And yet there was one last letter that only his aunt knew about. It was in a safety deposit box in Milpitas and had been written on March 14, 2003; it was read by his family three days after his death.
It said in part:
To My Beloved Parents George and Diana Mihalakis,
If you are reading this, then that should mean only one thing; our family is enduring one of the most painful things we have ever seen.
Sometime before reading this letter, you got word that I gave the ultimate sacrifice in the line of duty as a Military Police Officer in the United States Army. All in the name of protecting and defending the world’s greatest nation, the United States of America.
I can promise you that I would not give my life for any other cause and that I am honored to have been able to make such a sacrifice to protect my family and the many families like us, throughout the country.
Everyone sooner or later has to part this world. It makes me proud to know that I left while protecting the United States.
Eighteen is such a young age, and you’re probably thinking of all the things that I’m going to miss out on. Don’t. I got to live such a wonderful life because of you two, and because of that I don’t regret missing anything that would later come in the future.
And yet one can’t help but wonder what such a bright young man would have accomplished had he lived; what lives he would have touched had he not made the ultimate sacrifice.
Indeed, those are questions that can and should be pondered regarding all of our fallen veterans at today’s Veterans Recognition Luncheon at Mitchell Park in San Luis Obispo from noon to 2 p.m.
There, state Sen. Sam Blakeslee plans to honor all of the “Fallen Military Heroes” from his district and beyond as the collective Veteran of the Year.