It was Mother's Day -- not that Sarah Cowart had time to celebrate it. Her husband, Daniel, was thousands of miles away in Iraq, a gunner from the 1st Platoon, Delta Company. She was watching her twin girls eat pancakes and thinking about talking to him later that day when the phone rang. The number wasn't one she recognized, but something inside her told her to answer it. That's when everything changed.
For Daniel Cowart, it was what the Army called a maintenance day. He and the rest of his company were on base getting things ready for the week ahead when they got a call that one of the platoons needed a piece of equipment. On the way back to base, Cowart's convoy noticed a big backup of cars at one of the checkpoints and got out to see if they could help. After he and some other soldiers had cleared a few vehicles, Cowart pointed out something unusual—a nice white British car that seemed out of the ordinary for Samarra, Iraq. "Let's check that one," he motioned to a couple of his guys.
But before they could get there, two men inside got out—one holding a rifle. When he opened fire on the soldiers, spraying bullets across the checkpoint, Daniel had a split second to make a decision. He looked at the other man, who didn't have a gun and lunged for him. "I didn't see the suicide vest," he remembers. "I wasn't just going to shoot an unarmed guy," Daniel told people later. "But I knew he was a threat and [I] had to do something." That something saved countless soldiers' lives.
At some point in the struggle, a ferocious battle of hand-to-hand combat, Daniel tackled the young man, pulling him away from the car and the rest of his unit. That's when things went black. The suicide vest detonated, killing Daniel's platoon leader, Lt. Andrew Bacevich. It would have killed more, if Daniel hadn't covered the man's body with his own and kept most of the blast on the ground. He doesn't remember much after that, except waking up in a hospital without his left leg.
When Sarah answered the phone, she wasn't thinking about anything but cleaning up her girls from breakfast. The voice of her husband's commander was a surprise. "He was calling to let me know that Daniel had been wounded, but he was still alive. They couldn't tell me more than that." She hung up the phone in a daze, telling people later, "My first thought was," Sarah says, "I have to call his mom on Mother's Day and tell her that her child's been wounded."
Nothing's been easy since that horrible morning in May of 2007. In the 18 months after the attack, Daniel had an agonizing 20 surgeries. He retired from the Army after earning a Silver Star for his bravery, and they moved to Santa Fe, Texas. Things were finally starting to click when he got an infection in his leg and the doctors had to amputate another four inches. "That one was hard," Sarah told Capt. Scott Kuhn. "It felt like we were starting all over again." The loss of that part of his femur meant that he would spend most of his time in a wheelchair. Asked if he would do it again, Daniel replies without a moment of hesitation, "Absolutely."
It's that same selflessness that earned the Cowarts a second phone call, this time a few days before Christmas of last year. The Pentagon had been reviewing all of the awards handed out for the war on terror and had recommended that Daniel's be upgraded to a Distinguished Service Cross, one step below the Medal of Honor. Of the thousands of citations, his was one of just 57 that were changed. He started to cry. "My first feeling was: 'Why me?' I don't deserve that." Struggling with the memory he thinks about every day, he says emotionally, "My lieutenant didn't make it. If my lieutenant would have lived then, maybe. But I'll always feel like it is a little unfair."
On March 20th, with his teenage daughters looking on, the same dad who has vowed to walk his girls down the aisle, stood and looked out at the hundreds of active-duty servicemembers at his ceremony -- so many, reporters said, that the bleachers couldn't hold them.
"Our nation's history is full of selfless heroes," Lt. General Paul Funk said during the tribute. "When you hear about the acts of our warriors, you have to ask yourself, 'Where do we get these men and women?' This bond comes from our shared values; loyalty, honor, duty. But when you strip it all away, it is love... this is the real core of the bond between warriors. It is that love that brings this group here today..."
And it is love that drives tens of thousands of brave men and women just like him to sacrifice in ways most of us will ever know. Everyone who pulls on the uniform of the United States military shares that devotion. I know, because I did as a member of the United States Marine Corps. It was my deepest honor and privilege to be part of the proud tradition of patriotism that makes America unique. Join me in thanking -- and praying -- for the millions of warriors who've answered the call to defend this country -- and our freedom. To them, we owe all.