Wyoming heroes in post-9/11 wars

Posted 9/9/21

For many of us, the memories of Sept. 11, 2001, remain vivid. We remember when we first heard that a plane crashed into the World Trade Center, then the moment another plane struck the second tower. …

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Wyoming heroes in post-9/11 wars


For many of us, the memories of Sept. 11, 2001, remain vivid. We remember when we first heard that a plane crashed into the World Trade Center, then the moment another plane struck the second tower. We remember the feelings of disbelief, fear, sorrow and anger as more terrorist attacks followed. We remember the first responders who rushed courageously toward the horror of that terrible day. We remember the many men, women and children who died.

And we remember the true unity and patriotism among Americans in the days that followed. Two decades later, such unity only exists in memories.

The 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks comes as America marks the end of its longest war, with the exit of U.S. troops from Afghanistan in recent weeks marred by chaos and tragedy.

About 54% of U.S. adults said the decision to withdraw from Afghanistan was the right one, according to a Pew Research Center survey conducted in late August. Unsurprisingly, the data shows Americans differ much more sharply on the Biden administration’s handling of the situation.

But on Sept. 11, 2021, let’s set aside our political opinions and differences as we mark the 20th anniversary of a day that forever changed our nation. Let’s pause and remember the men and women who have served our country in post-9/11 conflicts.

While the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were fought thousands of miles away, the impact hit close to home. Wyoming heroes gave their lives at the very beginning and very end of the conflicts, and in the long years in between.

Less than six weeks after the 9/11 attacks, Army Spc. Jonn J. Edmunds of Cheyenne was killed in action in a Black Hawk helicopter crash during a training mission in Pakistan on Oct. 19, 2001, according to the Military Times. He was 20 years old.

The Powell community will always remember the start of the war in Iraq in 2003. The first U.S. serviceman killed in the war was Marine 1st Lt. Shane Childers, son of Joseph and Judy Childers of Powell. The 30-year-old Marine was killed on March 21, 2003, while leading his platoon on a mission in southern Iraq.

“We haven’t had to bear this burden alone,” Joseph Childers said at a Memorial Day ceremony in 2011. “We’ve been able to share it and have had the support of family, friends, neighbors, Shane’s friends from all over the world, the United States Marine Corps … and all the people across the country who also felt our loss.”

Lt. Childers was buried at Crown Hill Cemetery in Powell with full military honors by the U.S. Marine Corps. In 2011, “Lt. Childers Street” in Cody was dedicated in honor of his heroic life and sacrifice.

Years after mourning the first Marine killed in the Iraq War, Wyoming is now mourning one of the last Marines killed in Afghanistan.

Marine Lance Cpl. Rylee McCollum was killed in a suicide bombing at the airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Aug. 26. Memorial services for the 20-year-old Jackson native will take place after his baby is born this month, so his widow, Gigi Crayton, can safely travel to Wyoming, according to the Casper Star-Tribune.

Crayton said she lost her best friend, “and nothing will ever make that hurt less.” 

“He would’ve been the best dad,” Crayton wrote in a social media post, adding that she wishes “he could see how much of an impact he made on this world.”

Both 1st Lt. Childers and Lance Cpl. McCollum knew at a young age that they wanted to serve their country. Both achieved that goal, served courageously and made the ultimate sacrifice. Both left behind loved ones far too soon.

Thousands of fellow servicemen and women also gave their lives, while others were injured and many now struggle with lasting scars of war, both physical and psychological.

As we remember 9/11, may we never forget their service and sacrifices.