“Helicopter down,” Sarah Kurpe heard over the military radio on Jan. 2, 2004.
Kurpe, who retired as an army major, was serving in northern Iraq in the Transportation Corps.
“Helicopter down,” she heard again. “It’s the six.”
“The six is the commander, and there is that moment, ‘Please don’t be her. Please don’t be her. Please don’t be Kim,” said Kurpe, the featured speaker at Brookfield’s Memorial Day observance.
Kim was Capt. Kimberly Hampton, who piloted the army’s Bell OH-58 Kiowa helicopters, “One of the most challenging, most difficult, most demanding roles in the U.S. Army,” Kurpe said.
Kurpe said she felt a lot of affinity for Hamilton because there were similarities in their narratives, from their blond hair and being female to the stubbornness they showed in enlisting in the army at age 17.
It was Hampton that the radio message referred to. Her helicopter had been hit by enemy ground fire in Fallujah. She was the first female military pilot in U.S. history to be shot down by hostile fire. She was 27.
“You would have loved her,” Kurpe said. “Bright mind, infectious personality, beautiful smile. People in the room couldn’t help but like her.”
Although Hampton was foremost in her thoughts on Memorial Day, Kurpe has plenty of other memories of people who made the ultimate sacrifice. In her first leadership role in Mosul, Iraq, Kurpe was in charge of loading the bodies of those killed in action for the C-130 ride home. It was a solemn duty.
“Not one, not two, not three, countless, countless caskets going home with a flag.” she said. “It hits. It hits every day. My soldiers kept straight faces. They kept a calmness. We always knew where the priority was. Food, water and bullets always took second to sending our soldiers home.”
Those experiences left her wondering how to best honor Hampton and those countless soldiers who died in service of their country. Her answer was multi-faceted:
- “Stand as one,” she said. “Stand as one community. You don’t have to always be divided. All the politics, gun violence, drug usage, what’s going on in Ukraine, this has been a very difficult time. I’m telling you there is a path where we come together and we can figure things out. I’ve seen it myself.”
- “You cannot go through life by yourself. Although I had a title and a rank, my 50-cal gunner behind had my back. He’s who protected me. You are important. It doesn’t matter if you are the front of the convoy or the back of the convoy – you’re important.”
- “Life is gonna be full of uncertainty and resiliency. Life is gonna be full of times where you don’t have all the answers. Your friends, your family might even say, ‘I don’t agree with you. I think you have the wrong answer. I think you are thinking the wrong way.’ But I would commend you and say, ‘Keep going. Keep finding things out.’”
- “Sacrifice. The question you can ask yourself is, What can I do? What sacrifices can I (make.) They might not be the ultimate, but they can be something very important and very impactful. To my own children here, my Boy Scouts, you too can be a person of service. Maybe you’re a caretaker of elderly. Maybe you’re a mom feeding small children. Maybe you cook food for other people who depend on you. Maybe you mop floors and clean toilets for people who can’t. Maybe you stop at a car wash to help a local community earn money so that they can experience something exciting in their group. We can all find ways to provide a small sacrifice in their honor, and I think that’s something I want to try to do better each and every day, as a wife, as a parent, in my profession and in my community.”
The observance was the first full one in Brookfield since 2019, complete with a parade and an after-ceremony lunch provided by the Brookfield Township Volunteer Fireman’s Auxiliary.
Dave Winters, who served six years in the army in the 1970s, came to support his granddaughter, Ava Winters, a Brookfield Middle School student who read the poem, “Memorial Day.” Having never attended Brookfield’s observance before, he found it “Very moving. Very respectful, and very well done.”
These vets have passed away since Memorial Day 2021, and were named at the Brookfield Township Memorial Day Observance:
Albert Bandzak, Army, Vietnam era
Francis J. Bernatowicz, National Guard, Korean era
David Bossick, Marines, Vietnam era
William J. Bullock Jr., Army, Korean era
Richard R. Coulter, Army, Vietnam era
Howard P. Curry, Army, Korean era
Bruce A, Daugherty, Army, Vietnam era
Jacques E. Donaldson, Navy, Korean era
Kenneth R. Ericson, Army
Lee E. Faller, Air Force, Vietnam era
Benjamin A. Fielding, Army, Iraq War era
Stephen W. Genetta, Army, World War II era
Patton M. Gilliland, Army, Korean era
Edward A. Glaser, Army, Korean era
Robert W. Gray, Navy, Vietnam era
Edward L. Hassell, Air Force, Korean era
Kenneth W. Herron, Air Force, Korean era
John D. Hoffman, Viernam era
Kevin L. Ivery, Marines
David L. King, Army, Vietnam era
Edward P. Kish, Army, Vietnam era
Matthew Kulisich, Air Force, Korean era
David A. Medved, Army
John R. Miller, Navy, Vietnam era
Ellery R. Mohney II, Army, Vietnam era
Robert L. Montgomery, Navy, Vietnam era
Robert L. Morgan, Army, Korean era
Paul F. Nehlen, Marines, Vietnam era
Richard J. Rice, Army. Vietnam era
James A. Richmond Sr., Army, Vietnam era
William L Ryser Sr., Army, Vietnam era
Victor V. Sabulsky, Marines, Vietnam era
Davis S. Siege, Navy
Frank Simeon Sr., Army, Korean era
Thomas Steines, Air Force, Vietnam era
Joseph M. Szabo, Army, Vietnam era
Charles G. Thomas, Army, Vietnam era
Gary E. Toy, Army, Vietnam era
Nicolo Verroco, Army, World War II era
Robert T. Wilkin, Army, Vietnam era
Cay M. Wolfinger, Air Force, Vietnam era