SSG Joshua Eckoff, Sapper, US Army, is a true American hero living amongst us and serves as a great reminder as to why we all have gotten involved in JCS – he has served our country with valor, sustained injuries on our behalf that he will live with for a lifetime, but maintains a humility and sense of honor that is humbling to witness. Indeed, this valor, grace, and sacrifice led to Josh being awarded the inspiring Bronze Star and Purple Heart medals for his service. As most people recognize, these awards are some of the most prestigious that our nation bestows upon its service members.
We are very proud that Josh has agreed to be a part of JCS. As people learn of the way he has served our country and lived his life, he will become an example to all of us, including other service members recovering from severe combat injuries. Many of you have already been introduced to Josh, but for any others, we take this opportunity to introduce you to Josh via the admittedly limiting confines of our JCS website.
Josh is a 2003 graduate of Parkway South High School, in south St. Louis County, Missouri, where he played basketball and football. He joined the Army National Guard in 2002 and first deployed to Iraq for a one year tour in February, 2004. In that first tour of duty, Josh’s duties included the training of Iraqi Security Forces. After returning to the U.S. in February, 2005, Josh continued his education at Pierre Laclede Honors College at the University of Missouri – St. Louis (UMSL).
Seven months later, in September 2005, Josh’s unit was reactivated to participate in the recovery of New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Again, after that six week deployment, Josh returned to school. Josh and so many other members of our Armed Forces assist not only militarily but in humanitarian ways both in this country and abroad.
By October 2007, Josh had returned to Iraq as part of the 1138th Engineer Company. His unit was taking part in one of the most important and high profile missions in Iraq – finding and destroying explosive devices before other troops could get hurt by them. The success of the operations performed by Josh, his unit, and other units with similar missions has saved countless American lives.
Josh’s life changed forever on February 6, 2008. On that date, as his unit was in the midst of yet another critical “clearing” mission, the vehicle in which Josh was traveling hit an improvised explosive device (IED). That explosion took the life of Josh’s comrade, Sgt. Bradley Skelton of Gordonville, Missouri, and left Josh with severe head injuries. There began an ongoing struggle to, at first, survive, and ultimately thrive. Simply put, none of us can imagine the challenges that Josh and his family have faced since his injury. At first, Josh could not talk, eat, or drink on his own. But, today, we are amazed and humbled yet again by the progress he has made and the results of his and his family’s steadfast determination that Josh continue to recover.
Josh is currently living a few doors down the street from his parents’ home, here he bought a ranch home in July 2010 to continue his drive to independence. Josh’s immediate future will entail juggling his rehabilitation and class schedules with a goal of teaching at the college/university level.
We hope you have enjoyed your first introduction to Josh – an American hero and new JCS Hero. As a last bit of information, though, we think you will greatly enjoy the below letter that Josh wrote to students at Parkway South in 2004, during his first tour in Iraq. He was asked to write the letter by his former teacher, Ms. Elizabeth Morrison. It is a tremendous honor to have had the opportunity to introduce you to Josh, and that honor only increases because we can use his own words to convey an uplifting and resounding message of hope and kindness that reverberates even louder in light of Josh’s continuing legacy.
Letter from Josh
Dear Mrs. Morrison,
Regretfully, I do not believe this is what you had in mind when you asked me to write something for the Treaty [Parkway South’s school newspaper]. However, what follows is what I ended up with after a frenzied night of writing and rewriting … war stories just didn’t feel right.
To My Fellow Patriots,
As I sit here writing in this hostile land, I wonder if these thoughts will reach you. Not so much in the physical sense, but more on an intellectual and emotional level. I hope that my simple words will somehow find their way into your busy hearts and minds.
I suppose you are wondering just who I am. Quite simply put, I am an American Soldier, but I am much more than you might imagine. I am a friend and a son, a student and an athlete. I am a teenager; an adolescent and an adult. I am much like you, with one very distinctive exception … I am in Iraq. My name is Joshua Eckhoff and I graduated from South High just last year. I have been “in country” now for over three months, and I have learned a few things along the way. I must admit though, these are not the types of ideas that one would expect war to teach a person.
I must share with you what I have come to know as two of the most powerful forces in the world today: kindness and hope. Unlike the divisive power of bullets and bombs, the power of kindness and hope comes from bringing people closer and reminding us that we are all in this together.
As a soldier, I have been exposed to the evils and horrors of war. However, I have also experienced the effects of endless kindness from my family, my friends, my teachers, and from total strangers. I have received endless support and been showered with kindness, but the greatest gift these people have given me is the gift of hope. Hope of a better day, hope of coming home, and hope of having the opportunity to return the kindness that has been so selflessly shown to me in the months that I have been gone.
Now, it is my hope that I can pass the importance of my realization on to you. I challenge you to shower those around you with kindness, not only your friends, but more importantly your enemies. Sometimes, the simple kindness of an honest smile can provide someone with just enough hope to make it through the day. You may never know the effect that your kindness has on certain people, but know this … a kind word or act often inspires hope in those who need it most. I have seen the glimmer of hope in an Iraqi child’s eyes, and I assure you that hope, like kindness, transcends cultural and racial barriers. In this time of war, I challenge you to show unconditional kindness to those around you and to inspire hope in every life that you touch.
I hope these words find their way across the miles … I hope to make a difference … I hope to inspire … I hope to have the opportunity to be kind … I hope to see you all again in good time … I hope!