A fitting tribute to Minnesota's first war casualty

5:57 AM, Jul 5, 2013   |    comments
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SHAKOPEE, Minn. - Far from the fireworks, the cookouts and the revelry of July 4th are the places where those who gave all for this independence rest.

The cemetery.

Josh Abel is an Iraq war veteran and his first call to duty came on July 15th, 2003, when he worked funeral detail for Minnesota's first fallen solider in Iraq, Army Private First Class Jim Herrgott.

"It pulled in me at that moment that this was something meaningful, his sacrifice," Abel said Wednesday of that experience.

It was a pull so strong that it came back to Josh last week.

"Something, something just spoke to me and said, 'You need to do something,'" Abel said.

Something began on Wednesday morning.

"The idea, I think, of walking from my doorstep to his now, there is something meaningful about it," Abel said about his plan to march from his home in Brooklyn Center to Jim's grave in Shakopee.

For nearly 11 hours, carrying a forty pound ruck-sack and an American flag, Josh marched more than 31 miles.

"I didn't listen to music or anything else, it was just the silence, the open road, you know, I just thought about him, what that meant," Abel said.

Josh walked without cameras or fan fare.

He said he wanted his mission to be focused only on the memory of a 20-year-old soldier gone too soon, a soldier Josh had never met in life.

At mile 20 Josh wrote on his Facebook page that his body was wavering.

Finishing mile 25 he said he was bent but not broken.

"I mean, I knew I had to finish for him," Abel said.

He did finish. Quietly, sharing the moment only with Jim at the cemetery on the anniversary of his death.

He ended his salute to Jim where it began 10 years ago.

A fitting tribute to the fallen from a living veteran enjoying his freedom to say, "Thank you."

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