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A Marine's Final Gift

A Marine's Final Gift

A Bronze Star hero demonstrates genuine strength in an unexpected way.


A few months ago, three American marines were profiled in the New York Times. A black rectangular box draws attention to their names: Amaru Aguilar, age 26. Kevin Balduf, 27. Benjamin J. Palmer, 43. All killed while fighting in Afghanistan. The Times’ reporter, Bruce Wallace, decided to seek out information on these unfamiliar names.

Kyle Balduf, Kevin's twin brother, relays how Kevin was in Afghanistan and out on patrol. He was not supposed to be there that day. A marine got sick and Kevin took his place. During that mission a gang of Taliban fighters opened fire on them.

It was Kevin's job to call in an air strike. The problem was that Kevin had not yet received the level of training needed to do the job properly. But he did not give up. He picked up the map and tried as best he could. He managed to call in the coordinates. A few fighter jets were sent in to help rescue the men. Kyle says that quite a few lives were saved that day. Kevin received a Bronze Star.

But this act of heroism is not the part of Kevin Balduf's life that most inspires me.

It seems that when Kevin was a student in fourth grade, he was learning the concept of longitude and latitude. He told his teacher, Mrs. Burton, that the whole subject was stupid. He said that he'd never use it.

When he was in Afghanistan and had to call in the air strike while under Taliban fire, he used Mrs. Burton's lessons from way back.

"I was wrong,” he told his fourth grade teacher. “Latitude and longitude actually saved a lot of people's lives."

When returning home from battle, Kevin made a stop. He went back to his old elementary school and found Mrs. Burton. She was still teaching fourth grade. "I was wrong,” he told her. “Latitude and longitude actually saved a lot of people's lives." Kevin thanked his teacher for lessons learned so many years ago.

Kevin took the time to stand in front of the fourth grade class and told them his story. He thanked Mrs. Burton. He told them that they could do anything they set their hearts on, and that they had the power to change the world around them. This Bronze Star hero conveyed humility and gratitude, teaching the children in that fourth grade classroom the definition of genuine strength.

Kevin returned to Afghanistan and was killed in action.

Emotional Compass

What would happen if each one of us would take Kevin's final message – an attitude of gratitude – and make it a part of our lives?

Longitude and latitude are not just physical points on a map. Imagine if we would seek out those who have helped us find our emotional latitude and longitude; those who strengthened us as we found our direction in life. Remember the times we veered off course, or had trouble finding the right path?

Life is a journey and sometimes it becomes arduous and challenging. It can be difficult to find our way. The highway becomes long, choices confuse us, lines become blurred and without realizing it we are lost. We make poor decisions that may impact us forever.

Then we are blessed with that special person who illuminates our path. The one who does not allow us to be doomed to darkness.

Part of our human nature is to quickly forget and move on.

We are blessed to have individuals who inject us with fortitude, keep believing in us, wake us up, and prod us to think positively and to never give up. Those who gave us a life lesson – even way back in fourth grade – that has remained with us, enriched us, and maybe even helped us save some lives.

But part of our human nature is to quickly forget and move on.

Think about it. Who is that person or people in your life?

It may be a teacher, a friend from high school, cousin, neighbor, parent or sibling. It may be someone you haven't spoken to for years, but now a dim memory has been reawakened and you are drawn to find this person and express your gratitude. You have not forgotten.

Hakarat Hatov, recognizing and appreciating the good, is the foundation of Judaism. We begin each day by saying a prayer called Modeh Ani – thank You, God. Thank You for returning my soul to me and giving me another opportunity to make something of my time here.

When I become a person who lives with this understanding, I live with a grateful eye. I become a more positive person, cognizant of my blessings. I learn to recognize the good and not allow the negative to overwhelm me. I come to appreciate the gift of people in my life who I would otherwise take for granted.

Judaism imparts to us – from the moment we awake – that we must cherish life.

Kevin Balduf awakened within me a quest to spread this message. If you could, who would you call today and say: "Thank you for the latitude and longitude. I have not forgotten."

March 18, 2012

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Visitor Comments: 17

(13) Kyle Balduf, September 1, 2014 11:53 PM

Thank you

Thank you so much for writing these words. It is beyond amazing to see Kevin still teaching others and making a difference in their lives, beyond his life on Earth. Kevin's emotional compass was constantly pointing in the direction of gratitude and it showed in his actions. I appreciate you and your kindness in sharing Kevin with others.

(12) kathleen, March 27, 2012 8:53 PM

Inspiring Story of a Hero

Congratulations to Kevin for his braveryAnd for stepping out when your partner could not. And to the teacher who taught Kevin longitude, and latitude. You just never know when your studies will come in Handy. God Bless you.

(11) Joey, March 27, 2012 7:59 PM

Thank YOU for this excellent and thought-provoking article! G-d bless!

(10) GrandmaCarol, March 26, 2012 9:53 PM

BBeautifully written

While I'm not Jewish, I have family and friends who are and I find the articles at this website to be very well written and very interesting. This story touches me very deeply. The person who taught me about latitude and longitude is my beloved Auntie Olive. "She was the youngest of 3 children and my father was 8 years older. He died in 1964, when I was 20. Over the years both my Auntie and I lost deeply loved family and friends. It was after the death of my sweet sister, Georgia, at age 46 - we were 13 months apart, with me being the elder - that dropped my life spirit fell low. She was my life and to lose her was almost more than I could bear. I lived in AK then and whenever I came to WA I made sure to spend a few nights with my auntie. She had lost her husband, 2 of 3 sons, her brother, my mom and my sister. She taught me so very much about how to live on and make my life a positive one. She died in December 2010 at nearly 96 years of age. I absolutely believe she was given those years to provide me with the tools of a positive life. We talked often of dying and she had no fear at all. She had lost her sister, who was 12 years older than her, when her sister was in her 20's. She died of Colon Cancer and I had never known much about her. My auntie idolized and loved her greatly. At the age of 76, she still cried when she talked of her. I remember thinking I didn't think I could cry for that long over my sister. Well, of course that doesn't happen now except for certain incidents that bring my sister back to me. But for my auntie, I have no idea where or how I would be 20 years after my sister's death. I was so angry for the first few years, but that eventually can't be maintained. I turned again to God and with my auntie's lessons have become a settled and caring woman. I's so grateful that she was in my life and so blessed to have told her many times how much she had influenced my life. This story explains that concept so well. My thanks to the author.

(9) Judith, March 24, 2012 3:37 AM

my real life co-worker heroines

I read this article and thought of Gabi and Chantal. They both suffered major head injuries. They had to relearn basic skills we take for granted : verbal communication, locomotion. Today they both lead full lives, are incredibly creative professional and intelligent sweet and kind women. They are honest about any problems they may still have due to their injuries, but they don't dwell on them. They are empathetic compassionate listeners. They are my model and inspiration.

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