On December 7th, 1941, America was rocked when 353 Japanese aircraft bombed Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. The next day, the U.S. declared war on Japan and officially entered into World War II.
One year later, Paul Anderson Skelton joined the Navy, and spent 3 years, 8 months and 21 days working in Naval Intelligence.
"The outfit that I was with helped to develop breaking Japanese code, so we could know where the Japanese were but they couldn't tell where we were," he said.
The 20-year-old Yeoman 1st class was stationed in Miami, then Hawaii, so he wasn't directly in the line of fire and he says he didn't want to be.
"After watching the hospital ship come back from Tarawa, I had no desire to go on the front lines.There were too many people hurt. The First Marine Division lost more people in that battle than any time before or since."
But William Edward Dellow couldn't wait to jump in. As soon as he could, Dellow joined the Army, intent on being a veterinarian ... but the Army had other plans. After basic training, the Technical Sergeant and his unit were shipped off to the Pacific.
"We were the first ones into the cleanup after the atomic bomb in Hiroshima, Nagasaki. I ended up in Tokyo," said Dellow.
For three years, Dellow fought in the war, keeping letters, mementos, and pictures of friends and the one he loved the most ... memories he holds dear, even today. It was a tough time for all involved, but Dellow says the hardest part was staring directly at a man you were about to kill.
"It's one thing to pull the trigger on a 90MM cannon to blow up a tank or a Jeep or an area you know the enemy is there. It's another thing to pull the trigger on a gun when you're looking at him."
Unfortunately, that close combat didn't end with World War II.
Less than a decade later, Corporal Arnold Gruning, Junior found himself fighting the enemy in Korea on the now infamous Pork Chop Hill.
"When you get in a situation like that, where you're fighting an enemy and you're shooting every day and they're shooting back at you and the bombs are blowing, and you, eh, think, I come over here. It was my decision. I wanna keep the U.S., I want people of the United States to live on in freedom. I don't want no other country taking over," said Gruning.
During his time overseas, Gruning was wounded when a meeting tent came under fire. He was outside, but soon found himself on fire with a piece of shrapnel lodged in the back of his neck.
"Even though I was burnt, I could move my arms and move my legs and that gave me a little incentive. Hey, I'm moving around. I'm alright."
Like many others, Sergeant First class Ollie Clayton Campbell planned to make the military his career.
"I was raised up in a patriotic family and it seemed like the thing to do," said Campbell.
Campbell joined the Army in June of 1956. Nine years later he shipped off to Vietnam. It was his third tour overseas. As a member of the Fifth Special Forces, Campbell was training counter guerrilla defense to the Vietnamese when their camp came under attack.
"They put about 250 rounds of artillery on us in about 30 minutes," he said. "It has a positive killing radius of 20 meters, and I got one about three feet from my feet and one about three feet from my head and I survived."
Thankfully, none of the men in Campbell's unit were killed, but he and several others were badly injured and Campbell spent the better part of four years in and out of the hospital. Yet if push came to shove, he says he'd do it again.
"I think we have an obligation to defend our country."
And it's that sense of obligation that guides each and every member of the U.S. military into battle, knowing they may die so we can live in the land of the free.
Mirroring Pearl Harbor, on September 11th 2001, planes hijacked by terrorists pierced through the steel frame of the world trade centers taking nearly 3,000 American lives. The devastation of that day rallied patriotism and sent American troops into full-force combat to protect our country.
Today we take the time to celebrate the men and women that gave their blood, sweat and tears to fight for our freedom in part two of A Soldier's Story.
An IED explodes on the side of a dirt road in Iraq and for one American soldier his life would never be the same.
"The only thing different was I felt pain and I knew my armor, my Humvee didn't withstand it and when I felt pain I knew I was hurt and when I looked down I could see the damage," SSG (ret.) Luke Murphy, U.S. Army.
The smiling, action shots of Staff Sergeant Luke Murphy are a far cry from what you might imagine of a wounded war Veteran.
During his second tour of Iraq the Humvee Luke was riding was hit by an IED and he lost most of his right leg and parts of his left. Close to 30 surgeries later, if he didn't show you, you'd probably never know.
"You get challenged to this level and you definitely learn a lot about yourself and about people and about the world. you learn patience and you learn to be happy for what you have and not so much what you don't," said Murphy.
Most people who meet Luke believe he's an inspiration and a hero. But if you ask him there are people who sacrificed much more.
"I would say the heroes are the ones who didn't come home, the ones who didn't get the slap on the back or the big parades or won't ever see their parents again, you know they died in a very far away place," said Murphy.
Some servicemen are luckier than others. Corporal David Stuart of the U.S. Marine Corps landed safely with both feet on American soil, then he dropped to a knee.
"I wished I had done it before hand but honestly I didn't want to do it because if I didn't come back that would be bad," said CPL David Stuart, U.S. Marine Corps.
CPL Stuart proposed to his girlfriend Jennifer two weeks after he got home.
"I didn't plan on deploying especially when I started dating Jennifer but uh, the deployment came and I didn't think she would stick around," added Stuart.
But she did, and letter by letter they kept their love alive. Now just days away from their wedding, Jennifer couldn't be more happy her hubby-to-be is home, alive and well.
"I can't even imagine everything that he saw and I don't want to, but everything that he did I know requires a lot of strength and he just came out of it with a positive attitude. So, he is a hero to me," said Jennifer Jacob, Stuart's fiance.
Although humbled, David does not agree.
"You're living in the greatest country in the world and the vast majority of people living in it don't give anything back. I think everybody should, so I did," said Stuart.
And there are others that believe the same thing. Cadet Michael Kenaston is following in the footsteps of his grandfather and is ready to do whatever it takes to defend the land he loves.
"I always wanted to be in the military. I never wanted to do anything else," said Michael Kenaston, AFROTC Cadet.
He spent six years in the Navy as a 2nd class missile technician. His submarine came back to land just before the attacks of September 11th.
"A lot of people were angry, determined and everybody came together and our training finally made sense," Kenaston added.
What made sense to Michael was education. He got out of the navy and headed back to school, but the pull of service didn't stop. He's now a semester away from graduating as a 2nd Lieutenant in the U.S Air Force. Serving our country is a family thing. Michael's grandfather fought in Vietnam and Michael says those men, are his heroes.
"I look back on those people and respect them even more and I want other people to respect them," said Kenaston.
No matter the branch, no matter the year, these are the faces of the men who lay down their lives so we can lay down our heads in peace.