"But, nevertheless, the generation that carried on the war has been set apart by its experience. Through our great good fortune, in our youth our hearts were touched with fire. It was given to us to learn at the outset that life is a profound and passionate thing." Oliver Wendell Holmes
"I'm sorry I must leave, but I must do what is asked of me by my God, my Country, and my Corps.. and so, the war blog begins, again." ~B
28 May 2010
Memorial Day 2010
I have been working with soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines deployed overseas to Iraq and Afghanistan for over 6 years. That is a really long time. There are times where I feel each and every day. One of those days where I feel it most acutely is Memorial Day.
Memorial Day has always been associated with a picnic that brings the entire extended family network together to celebrate the beginning of summer. There is joy, laughter, swimming, horseshoes, and baseball in the field. It is a small town and it is well known that this spot is ours on this day, yet occasionally we still have to fight off those who would swipe the tables...even then, we always end up sharing our food with them.
From the early days of my adulthood, Memorial Day has also become something else. It has reverted to its historical origins and become a day that brings with it the sharp twist of mourning. It is when I feel each and every day of the six years in the ache of my heart, the set of my jaw, and the bags under my eyes.
It is a fact that when nations go to war men and women will die. They will most often be young. Their deaths will cause a ripple effect that rips across the nation, tearing the hearts of brothers in arms, parents, spouses, siblings, children, grandparents, best friends, relatives, school mates, teachers, caregivers, pediatricians, neighbors, former employers, the guy that used to deliver the pizzas on Friday night, and any number of people that cross paths in the course of living.
These deaths also rip into those who care deeply for their nation and their nation's armed forces, the people that join military support organizations. People like me, who build relationships with these men and women, knowing there is a chance that this new friend may not make it back. Knowing that the more people you befriend in a war, the greater the chances are.
I have not escaped this phenomenon. When I first started writing soldiers I was a bit naive about it. It would be cool to write soldiers and they are doing this brave and noble thing. I knew people could get hurt, even killed in a war, but it didn't seem real. I didn't really think about it happening. That naivety shattered with that first name I recognized on a casualty list. Then I recognized another, and another, and another. As Lucas Holt wrote: "nothing threatens the romance of war more effectively than war itself."
I have my list of people to visit, names to engrave, when they get around to building memorials for our war. It has been six years and it seems that each year the list grows longer.
They are "My Guys." The funerals I have represented at. They are the people behind the sacred stories I have been entrusted with. They are the Fallen. They are my fallen.
It is not my place to judge what their deaths mean in terms of big-picture war or policy strategy. I don't really care how history judges the conflict in which they fought. They lived lives of honor and service. Many died for something they truly believed in. That is enough for me. Each one has taught me something in life or through their death about living. I have had the chance to meet some of their families, something I am humbled and honored by. It is a reminder that behind each name, each number, is a unique individual.
Each and every individual deserves to be remembered on this Memorial Day weekend. I encourage you to visit a site like Honor the Fallen to do just that. But if you can't or won't do that then borrow a portion of my list and remember them.
They were killed in Iraq or Afghanistan.
Each name means something specific to me.
One is a childhood friend. One was the first military funeral I ever attended. One was a name on the letter I never got send. Each one I am connected to in some way.
Even if I didn't know them in life, today I miss them.
I will carry each of them, and many others, in my heart forever.
It is our sacred duty to remember. We must not forget.
May you have Peace and Rest, my friends. I remember you.
Pfc. Gunnar Becker Sgt. Jessica Housby Pvt. Jonathon Pfender Pfc. James Brown Pfc. Chris Dixon Spc. Joseph Ford Pfc. Aaron Gautier Pfc. Jonathan Hamm Cpl. Will Powell
Lt. Miroslav "Steve" Zilberman
We shall find peace. We shall hear the angels, we shall see the sky sparkling with diamonds. ~Chekhov, Uncle Vanya