The wind and snow had just begun to intensify as I slowly worked my way through the crags of rocks that bordered the final ascent to the peak. The whistle of the wind across the scrub of the scraggly boughs in the tree line below seemed to swallow the sounds of scrapping snowshoes as my sons and I traversed the last few feet of snow swept, ice encrusted rock to the peak of Borestone Mountain. We waited, along with my nephew, on the top as the rest of our group appeared from the rocks below and made their way to the top, scaling the bluffs like ants picking their own varied approaches.
Almost immediately the hikers began to pull layers from their packs that had been shed in the climb to cover themselves against the brisk wind and snow. Smiles and congratulations were shared all around as we munched on food and took in the stark wintry beauty around us. The mountain dressed in snow with the shades of grey and black exposed rock trimmed against the dark greens of the mountain conifers laid upon the backdrop of the icy ponds and winter mountains below was absolutely breathtaking. The satisfaction of conquering the mountain was palpable in the air as the snowshoeing warriors conversed together and surveyed their conquest.
The moments of revelry were short-lived, as those who have hiked in the wilderness for any length of time know that extended exposure to the harsh elements on a windswept mountain in a snow squall is not the better part of wisdom. We quickly changed our focus to primary reason for our hike. A sudden sense of gravity seemed to move amongst almost as if it were carried on the winds swirling around us.
Each of us removed from our pack a stone engraved with the name of a soldier that has fallen combat. There on that cold, snowy, peak we gathered in a circle to honor their sacrifice and bravery. With only the surrounding grey bleak cliffs, the ominous circling dark clouds, the cold wintry valleys below, and God above as our witness, we honored the fallen and pledged never to forget their sacrifice.
I carried the memorial stone of PFC Tyler M. Springmann. He was born in Hartland, Maine, not far from where I live. He was stationed in Fort Wainwright, Alaska with the Stryker Brigade. He was fun loving, loved people, and wanted to be loved. He had weakness for a good Whopper and preferred the outdoors.
He was 19 years old when he joined the army, went to war, and gave his all for you and me. As I sat on that mountain looking at that stone, picked from the driveway of Tyler’s grandparents home where he used to skateboard, I was struck by how cold and how final it felt to me. Beside me on that snowy mount where my two teenage sons, who are just a few years younger than Tyler was when he gave everything he could give for his country.
In that ceremony ring, there was a young man of 17, who had just joined the Marines, honoring a fallen marine. Beside him, his mother and sister. His mother carried the stone of a soldier who had also joined the military at 17, and the day of this hike was the anniversary of his sacrifice. There also a granddaughter who carried a stone honoring her grandfather, a helicopter pilot in the Vietnam War, who had recently passed on.
As we climbed, at points repelled, down the mountain, I reflected on the small sacrifice we had made to climb the mountain in comparison to great price of freedom. It was a difficult climb to be sure. Two of our group could not finish due to injury. Still even the cold cliffs of that icy mountain cannot compare to the cold hard finality of the price of freedom. These heroes from Maine we honored on this hike knew full well that price and willingly gave it. It is for us that bask in the warmth of that freedom they purchased to vow never to forget its high cost. I will never forget Tyler M. Springmann and I will never stop fighting for freedom.