By Jane Whitfield and Salvatore Abbate
When our oldest son, Matthew, enlisted in the Marine Corps 10 years ago, we were naturally concerned that he was entering the armed forces during a period of war. And we were even more concerned when he re-enlisted. As excited as he was to fulfill this lifelong calling, we knew there was a possibility that we could receive devastating news. And though he was always on our minds, we never thought our concerns would become a reality.
Despite our fears, he flourished. Throughout his time, his fellow Marines idolized him. Matt served tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, moving up the ranks to become a sergeant. Members of his platoon told us that they wanted to be like him, to follow him, and they did. They called him the “heart and soul” of their unit. Matt reciprocated that affection. To him, they were his brothers.
In the fall of 2010, Matt’s battalion went to Afghanistan. Not long after arriving, Matt and his unit were on patrol when they were ambushed in a minefield. The patrol leader and others became incapacitated with injuries. With disregard for his own safety, our son risked his life as he sprinted to the front to rally his fellow Marines and suppress enemy fire. Time was of the essence for the injured, and Matt was always there to help those he loved. His actions saved the lives of many men on that day.
For his valor, Matt was awarded the Navy Cross — an extremely rare medal earned for extraordinary heroism during armed combat, second in stature only to the Medal of Honor. But he will never know of this recognition.
On Dec. 2, 2010 — just a few weeks after that bloody attack — our worst fear came true, with one simple knock at daylight. Matthew was killed in combat.
Not a day goes by that we don’t wonder about the life Matthew would have led if he were still with us. We wonder what he might have needed to ease his transition home after war, what path he might have chosen as a veteran. We wonder about the life he would have had with his wife and our grandson.
But we will never know any of this.
We carry the weight that every Gold Star family carries.
Today, we choose to turn that weight into a responsibility. We know all too well that freedom is not free, and we all have a duty to serve our community and our nation. As those who have lost a son to war, we know it is vital to choose a commander in chief who understands service and sacrifice. Who supports our men and women in uniform.
There is no one more qualified in that regard than Hillary Rodham Clinton.
For her entire career, she has committed herself to her country and its people. She values respect, diplomacy, and conflict resolution — the very qualities needed to make sure that we have allies we can depend on. That our troops are not alone in the field. That our country has the relationships and alliances needed to prevail over our enemies.
We’ve seen her turn these principles into action throughout her career. Secretary Clinton knows the stakes. She understands that keeping America strong means building strong friendships and alliances with those who share our values. She has fought for service members. She has ensured that they have the tools needed to excel at their jobs while in the military — and that they’re equally equipped to succeed as veterans. She has witnessed the worst aspects of war, mourned with the families of fallen service members, and has been with those of us on the home front, giving us the support we need, too, when that job is done.
We believe the answer is clear. One candidate has fought for those who fight for our nation. The other offers only bluster and insults — outbursts that weaken our allies and, ultimately, make the jobs of our men and women in uniform more difficult and dangerous.
Secretary Clinton will always help others, and Donald Trump will always help himself.
Our son Matthew put forth an example of love, mutual respect, service and sacrifice. That example is what we will bring with us when we pull the lever in the ballot box on Nov. 8.
Amissville residents Jane Whitfield, president of Whitfield Consulting Group, and her husband, Salvatore Abbate, a retired automotive mechanic and entrepreneur, originally wrote this column for MilitaryTimes.com, where it first appeared.