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Obama Recognizes Oklahoma Soldier’s Sacrifice During Memorial Day Ceremony

President Barack Obama speaks in the Memorial Amphitheater at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va., Monday, May 30, 2016, during a Memorial Day ceremony.
Pablo Martinez Monsivais
President Barack Obama speaks in the Memorial Amphitheater at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va., Monday, May 30, 2016, during a Memorial Day ceremony.

President Obama remembered Oklahoma native and Army Master Sgt. Joshua Wheeler as exactly what was right about this world.

Speaking at Arlington National Cemetery during Monday's Memorial Day ceremony, the president described Wheeler as a man who came from nothing, and made something of himself.

“As a kid, Josh was the one who made sure his brother and four half-sisters were dressed and fed and off to school,” Obama said. “When there wasn't food in the cupboard, he grabbed his hunting rifle and came back with a deer for dinner. When his country needed him, he enlisted in the Army at age 19.”

Wheeler was born in Roland and graduated from Muldrow High School in 1994. He joined the Army in 1995, and deployed 14 times to Afghanistan and Iraq. He earned 11 Bronze Star medals, earning four for valor. 

U.S. Army Master Sgt. Joshua Wheeler
Credit U.S. Department of Defense
U.S. Army Master Sgt. Joshua Wheeler

The 39-year-old was killed October 22 when he and dozens of U.S. special operations troops and Iraqi forces raided a compound near the city of Kirkuk, where approximately 70 Iraqi prisoners were held.

"Every single one walked free. ‘We were already dead,’ one of the hostages said. Then God sent us a force from the sky. That force was the U.S. Army, including Josh Wheeler,” Obama said.

Wheeler was the first American to be killed in action in Iraq since November 2011, and the first to die as a result of enemy fire while fighting ISIS militants.

His wife Ashley Wheeler and infant son David attended the ceremony at Arlington, where Joshua Wheeler is buried. Ashley Wheeler told the president her husband was a doting dad who left notes for his unborn son in the books he read.

“Today this husband and father rests here in Arlington in Section 60,” Obama said. “And as Americans, we resolve to be better. Better people, better citizens, because of Master Sgt. Joshua Wheeler.”

Obama said 20 members of the armed forces have died in combat within the last year.

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Brian Hardzinski is from Flower Mound, Texas and a graduate of the University of Oklahoma. He began his career at KGOU as a student intern, joining KGOU full time in 2009 as Operations and Public Service Announcement Director. He began regularly hosting Morning Edition in 2014, and became the station's first Digital News Editor in 2015-16. Brian’s work at KGOU has been honored by Public Radio News Directors Incorporated (PRNDI), the Oklahoma Association of Broadcasters, the Oklahoma Associated Press Broadcasters, and local and regional chapters of the Society of Professional Journalists. Brian enjoys competing in triathlons, distance running, playing tennis, and entertaining his rambunctious Boston Terrier, Bucky.
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