KSLA Salutes: Honoring the late Army Sgt. Craig Nelson

"That’s really all we ask. Just don’t forget them.”

KSLA Salutes: Honoring the late Army Sgt. Craig Nelson
This Memorial Day, we remember Sgt. Craig L. Nelson, who died after his vehicle struck a roadside bomb while he was in Iraq in 2004. (Source: Carly Thompson)

BOSSIER PARISH, La. (KSLA) — There are many out there who look at Memorial Day as a time to hit the water, throw a barbecue, or gather with family and friends.

But this day is about remembering those who gave their lives serving our country.

There’s a sign off U.S. Highway 80 in Bossier City that many motorists likely pass. It designates that stretch as the Sgt. Craig L. Nelson Memorial Highway.

KSLA Salutes: Honoring the late Army Sgt. Craig Nelson

“There are many people that have died so that we can have our freedom, and I think that sometimes we forget that," Carly Thompson said.

A few miles down that stretch of highway is where you’ll find Thompson, who is Nelson’s sister.

Pictures, medals, and memories are all that she has left of her little brother.

“He just always loved the military. And so it was not a surprise to anyone when he joined the Louisiana Army National Guard."

This adorable, redheaded little boy from Bossier City grew up with plans to serve his country.

“He wanted to go," Thompson recalled. "He wanted to find (Osama) Bin Laden. He wanted to fight them because of what happened at 9/11.”

Her brother still was in high school and had already joined the National Guard ... even talking three of his best friends into joining, when the events of Sept. 11 took place.

“I remember looking at him and I said ‘Why are you doing this?’ And I just wanted to know what he was thinking really," Thompson said. “And he pointed to my son, who was 4 at the time, and he said ‘I’m doing it for him’.”

Nelson uttered those words to his sister just before he got on the bus to head to Iraq in October 2004.

“I remember him putting his window down to wave at us so we could see him. And for the first time, his facial expression was different," Thompson recalled.

"I just had something come over me that felt like this might be the last time I see him.”

It was just a few months later on Dec. 16 that Nelson was involved in an accident.

“Craig’s friend Ryan said he saw the dog. But he said okay, the other vehicles had gone past and nothing has happened, so we’re good," Thompson said.

"As soon as their vehicle got to the dog, a bomb was detonated.”

Soon she and her family got the news about what had happened to her brother.

“I just melted," Thompson said. "I fell to the floor. I was crying. My whole world changed in that moment. I didn’t see anybody around me. In that moment, I was by myself and scared.”

Nelson was brought back to the United States, where Thompson and her mother shared a few weeks with him while he was in the hospital.

“We got to spend one last Christmas with Craig and he passed away on Dec. 29, 2004."

That was just a few weeks before his 22nd birthday.

“How many people get to say that they died doing exactly what they wanted to do?" Thompson asked. "Not many people get to say that, so I’m okay with that.

"I’m okay that he got to do what he wanted to do because that made him happy. I just miss him.”

It’s now been more than 15 years since Thompson lost her brother.

But this Memorial Day, she hopes those who drive down U.S. 80 remember Sgt. Craig Nelson and the thousands of other soldiers who died so we could live freely.

“As Gold Star Families, we just want you to remember our boys," Thompson said. “They were somebody’s kid. They were somebody’s husband, somebody’s brother, dad. And we just don’t want people to forget about that.

"That’s really all we ask. Just don’t forget them.”

You can find the Sgt. Craig Nelson Memorial Highway sign just before you turn in to Bossier Parish Community College.

That particular spot was chosen because Nelson would have attended BPCC once he returned home, Thompson said.

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