'We will never forget'
“Poor is the country that has no heroes, but beggard is the country that having them, forgets.” - Anonymous
They came from opposite ends of the country. Yet both young men shared very similar backgrounds. Salt of the earth souls, “All-American Boys” in their own special ways. Just as it's always been and, I trust & pray, how it always will be.And like thousands, millions, of our country's best and bravest – past, present and future – Shane Cantu of Corunna, Michigan (near Lansing) and Andrew Keller of Beaverton, Oregon (near Portland), became fast friends within the disciplined ranks of the United States Armed Forces.
There were many wonderful attributes the two young men shared in common, according to family, friends, former coaches and teachers. But at the top of the list, and the trait that truly defines each and every one of us, for better or worse, is character.
And these young Americans, “Brothers in Arms,” literally and at the deepest depths of human spirit, had Character. Selfless character, as teammates in Legion Company, 1st Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment, of the storied 173rd Airborne Brigade, and as instantaneous friends to those whose lives they touched.
Cantu, 20, was “a good, hardworking student,” according to Leo Constine, one of his former teachers at Corunna High School.
A three-time all-conference football player, Cantu was described by his coach Mike Sullivan as “the hardest working kid I ever coached.” Sullivan added, “Shane was a winner in more ways than just winning or losing a game. He gave everything his all and everybody wanted to follow him. That's just who he was. He had a heart of gold and his smile lit up a room.”
“Shane was the most passionate guy I ever met,” said his friend Dom Persichini. “He was 100 percent all the time. If he was laughing, he was cracking up louder than anyone else. If he was serious, he was the most serious guy in the room. Everyone respected him, on and off the field, because he was so loyal. He was always pushing people to do their best, but he was always supportive.”
Another high school friend, Jake Lumsden, said Cantu told him he joined the military because he loved being part of a team. “When college football didn't work out for Shane, he joined the military to be part of something bigger than himself. It was who he was and what he wanted to do with his life.”
Shane's family said he had a fun-loving and entertaining personality; always keeping everyone in stitches with his sense of humor and his many celebrity impersonations.
Shane's mother, Jennifer Clarke, said her son was “at peace with going to Afghanistan.” And not just because it was what he signed up to do in this era of the all-volunteer military. “He said people, especially children, need my help,” explained his mother.
Keller, 22, was a son, brother, fiancee' and friend.
And just like his buddy from Michigan, the proud Oregonian, a gifted and popular football player at Southridge High School, was known as a loyal, caring man, truly concerned about his impact on others' lives.
In a letter to his mother after joining the Army (as published in The Oregonian newspaper), Keller said, “I know you don't like it that I am making the ultimate sacrifice and am a member of the United States Army. But isn't that what life is about? Making the ultimate sacrifice for that small chance of making a difference in somebody's life.”
“Andrew's smile could make anyone's day brighter,” said Southridge health teacher Connie Jolley. “He was diligent in his schoolwork and he was hilarious, the kind of kid people just wanted to be around.”
A shoulder injury cost Keller his dream of playing college football, but it didn't deter his inner desire to continue his life as a leader, a role at which he excelled. “He liked the structure of the Army, having a team, a goal and feeling like he was accomplishing something important,” his fiance', Marissa Jones, told the Portland Tribune.
Jones, Keller's sweetheart since eighth grade, said on the first of her two visits to see Andrew at Caserma Ederle, Vicenza, Italy, where his unit was based, her favorite part was meeting his friends. “They were all like brothers and had a bond like something I haven't seen with other groups of people. They truly care and rely on each other. They really are family. Andrew was surrounded by such amazing guys.”
One of those 'amazing guys' Jones met was Keller's “brother” and close friend, Pfc. Shane Cantu.
Both soldiers arranged for the loves of their lives, Marissa and Ciara (Agnew) of Owosso, Mich., to visit them in Italy in May - to have some fun and relaxation - a few weeks prior to their deployment to Afghanistan.
On 15 Aug., Pfc. Andrew James Keller, who hours earlier had gotten enough cell phone signal on top of a Logar Province mountain to text his family and tell them he was safe and loved them, was killed by an insurgent small arms round.
Two weeks later, on 28 Aug., Pfc. Shane William Cantu, who had five sisters (including a twin), and who had “finally found what he really loved to do” when he joined the military, was killed by shrapnel from an insurgent explosive round fired into a forward operating base perimeter.
Families are devastated. Friends, entire communities – filled with heartache. So many dreams ended, or deferred.
Death and maiming are integral and cosmically impartial components of war. It's grim elements seeping across the landscape like a fog. And all the while, it never gets easier to understand or accept that killing is the answer to anything.
Civilians rarely see war, unless it's being inflicted upon them.
Civilians everywhere see the results of war.
I didn't go to Afghanistan with a mission to make a documentary about revenge, combat, drone strikes, IEDs, suicide bombers or any other means of killing, mayhem and destruction. That story, sadly, unfolds every day and will, somewhere in the world, continue until the end of mankind.
My desire was to tell “the other war story.” The deeply personal side of a dangerous and difficult mission being carried out by so many brave Americans, as well ISAF forces and non-governmental humanitarian organizations. Our story is one of compassion and hope, one conspicuously absent in a 24/7 news cycle dominated by an “if it bleeds it leads” mentality.
“Outside the Wire: The Forgotten Children of Afghanistan,” follows America's finest as they carry out a dangerous and difficult mission. The story, however, celebrates our similarities as decent human beings - regardless of race, color or creed - as opposed to the arguing, fighting and killing over differences.
My travels throughout Afghanistan with the men and women of the U.S. Armed Forces was one of the greatest privileges of my life.
One of the blessings precipitated from our first documentary is the founding of our not-for-profit organization, The Red, White and Blue Project, Inc., www.theredwhiteandblueproject.org as well as my opportunity to share and introduce to you through the blogosphere, continued information and stories about America's best and bravest.
At The Red, White and Blue Project, we believe that when courageous volunteer warriors are killed or wounded in service to America, we don't view them, their grieving families and friends as people we don't know. All lives intersect in some manner. And these are our sons, daughters, husbands, wives, brothers, sisters, friends and neighbors. They ship out to far away lands – just as they have for generations – to confront evil with force, skill and compassion. They do this so the rest of us don't have to.
We hope that each of you will spend some time at our website (please put it in your “favorites” for continued easy access and updates) to get a feel for who we are, what our three-fold mission involves and the principles for which we stand.
And we realize fully, that many people are struggling – financially and otherwise. If you're inspired to support and join our mission monetarily or via a Sponsorship package (individual, business or corporate), it matters not the amount of your gift. “Large or small” is a relative term and we are grateful for all of you! Every donation, including purchase of our documentary DVD, is tax deductible and 100% of monies stay in America.
The DVD trailer can be viewed on our website, as well as on YouTube (Outside the Wire Trailer, 4:01). Our friend and ally, #1 Billboard Country Artist Raymond Harris, an unyielding advocate for the U.S. military and its veterans and families, also has a great YouTube site (Raymond Harris) for the making of his newest single, “Sweet.”
In visiting our web and YouTube sites, and if your heart moves you, please know that you you will make a difference in helping us spread worldwide, our mission to “Educate, Inspire, Empower, Support.”
The universal message is that we should never forget people like Pfc. Shane Cantu and Pfc. Andrew Keller – and mean it with all of our being.