Gold Star families share their service members' sacrifices on Independence Day

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This is part 1 of Fox News Digital’s Freedom Isn’t Free series honoring America’s fallen heroes as the nation celebrates July 4th.

Gold Star father Mark Schmitz has turned grief over the death of his son, Marine Lance Cpl. Jared M. Schmitz, into appreciation for America’s freedoms.

Jared Schmitz was killed in action at then-Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Aug. 26, 2021, alongside 12 other American service members. He was 20 years old.

“People by nature take things for granted all the time, and it never bothered me before. It does personally bother me now when I see people with the freedom they have, and they’re wasting it on so many things,” Mark Schmitz said in an interview with Fox News Digital.

He hasn’t forgotten his son’s sacrifice and what that means this Fourth of July weekend.


Father and son Mark and Jared Schmitz, left, and the last known photo taken of Jared in Afghanistan, right

Gold Star father Mark Schmitz is seeking to honor son Jared’s memory through a foundation to house veterans known as “Freedom 13” in honor of the 13 killed in action on Aug. 26, 2021. (Mark Schmitz)

“Whether it be complaining about being a ‘Karen’ and, you know, flipping out about not getting the right prize at the restaurant, or, you know, ‘first-world problems …’ People complain about so many things that other people in other countries would love to have and don’t have access to,” Mark said.

“People complain about so many things that other people in other countries would love to have and don’t have access to.”

— Mark Schmitz

“We have become so routine with what we expect from the world when our kids went out like so many before them and [protected] our freedoms, and some of them don’t come home,” he added.

Jared was 8 years old when he knew he wanted to join the military, according to the Freedom 13 website.

“A sweet, gentle and selfless soul, Jared had a great sense of humor, loved the underdog and cared deeply for his family and friends,” the site reads.

Mark said, “[Jared had] been talking about wanting to be a Marine for many years, especially through high school. He knew that was his calling. And we couldn’t have been more proud to see him fulfilling that dream when he got to [Camp] Pendleton.”


KIA Marine Jared Schmitz as a child, left, and as a teenager, right

Marine Lance Cpl. Jared M. Schmitz was born on Feb. 25, 2001, in Missouri. He was 20 years old when he was killed in action in Afghanistan. (Mark Schmitz)

Jared graduated from high school and was officially sworn into the Marine Corps in 2019; his training ended during the height of the COVID pandemic, his father said.

“Once he went through everything they had, he was asked to get out, see the world, and he finally got his orders to go on his first deployment to Jordan.”

“And he loved it, got to train out there, and he actually got to shoot with a designated marksman, which was an honor for him,” Mark continued.

Jared was soon called to Afghanistan to aid in the American withdrawal after his deployment to Jordan.

“Jared reached out to me. He said he was going someplace, and he couldn’t tell me where it was. Well, if you knew my relationship with my son, I wasn’t going to settle for that as an answer. [Jared] let me keep guessing. And when I guessed correctly, he answered differently. So, I knew he was going to Afghanistan,” Mark said.

Jared Schmitz seen posing in his Marine Corps uniform, left, and sitting with his rifle, right

According to father Mark Schmitz, Jared had been discussing Marine Corps service “for many years, especially through high school.” (Mark Schmitz)

Mark heard from Jared shortly after he landed in Afghanistan, and it wasn’t long before Jared told his father he didn’t know if he would live.

“He thought he was going to die right then and there because it was just a massive sea of people, the pressure and the heat,” Mark said.

“You know, everybody’s pressed together. He said if you walked out and your arms are up, they pretty much had to stay up at that time because you were just pressed that tightly together with somebody else in front and behind you,” he said.

“… he told me that that day when they landed, and he went out on the Abbey Gate for the first time, he thought he was going to die right then and there because it was just a massive sea of people …”

— Mark Schmitz

Mark was in disbelief that Jared was among the 13 American service members who died on Aug. 26, 2021, believing his son had been moved to the airport’s tarmac.

Ultimately, “[Jared] was one of the 13 that was tragically killed that day by the explosion.”

Mark has created a foundation in honor of Jared’s sacrifice, known as Freedom 13.

“Remembering The Heroes That Made The Ultimate Sacrifice by Supporting The Veterans Still With Us,” Freedom 13’s mission statement reads.

The foundation’s aim is to build veteran retreats in all 50 states to honor the memory of both Jared and the 12 others killed on Aug. 26, 2021.


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