"Firemen are going to get killed. When they join the department they face that fact. When a man becomes a fireman his greatest act of bravery has been accomplished. What he does after that is all in the line of work. They were not thinking of getting killed when they went where death lurked. They went there to put the fire out, and got killed. Firefighters do not regard themselves as heroes because they do what the business requires."
12 January 2011
Remembering Pfc Gunnar Becker
One inescapable fact about war is that there will be casualties. When nations wage war men and women will die. They will be young. They will be missed. They will be gone, as Seeger says, forever lost to "some disputed barricade."
There is an old, traditional song entitled Hard Times that reminds us that we must account for these things that are hard to acknowledge. It begins, "Let us pause in life's pleasures and count its many tears..." Often, the hard times are the ones we want to forget. The harsh reality of young men and women in uniform not coming home is certainly a reality we as a society wish to ignore.
But we cannot ignore them. We cannot hide from them. We must pause our own lives for a moment to count life's tears. There are many tears to be shed for our fallen, not just in the moment their names are released to stream on the scrolling news bar, but for the many moments after where their absence is felt.
One of the casualties of our current wars is Pfc. Gunnar D Becker, 19, Forestburg, South Dakota. Gunnar was a tanker stationed out of Vilseck, Germany. Today, January 12, 2005, he was living the last day of his life. By the end of the next, January 13, 2005, his rendezvous with Death had come to pass. The disputed barricade where he gave his life was came on a battlefield in Iraq.
By all accounts, Gunnar was someone you'd be lucky to call a friend. Despite his youth, he had a commitment to his chosen profession. He knew the risks. He believed in what he was doing. He possessed the values of Honor, Courage, and Commitment that too many of his peers lack. He understood service and undertook the greatest act of service there is, service to one's country. He stood the watch for us, protecting us and the ideals of our nation. He was willing to give his life for a cause that was greater than himself. The phrase "the price of freedom" is thrown around a lot by the media, sometimes seriously, mostly around Memorial Day, but mostly facetiously. But the true price of freedom ultimately is the life of Pfc Gunnar Becker and those like him who defend our nation. That is what it has always been.
Gunnar gave his life for his country. He paid the ultimate price. For this reason, many would call him a hero. I would argue that it is not his death that makes him one. He is a hero for the way he lived his life. It reminds me of FDNY Chief Ed Croker's words while speaking upon the deaths of a deputy chief and four firemen in a 1908 blaze. He said of their bravery:
Indeed, Gunnar's greatest act of bravery was accomplished when he took the oath of enlistment and promised to protect and defend the United States of America. He went where the job sent him and did what the job required. This is what makes him hero.
But it does not lessen the pain of his loss for those who loved and knew him. He is still gone from them. There are no words we can offer to make this loss better.
Instead, we must offer what we can: acknowledgement.
Pfc. Gunnar D Becker lost his life in service to our country. Today, and everyday, I remember him. I remember him as an individual who is no longer here to leave his mark on the world. I remember his family who must face his absence daily.
Laurence Binyon wrote of the fallen in World War I that "they will not grow old, as we that are left grow old:/ age will not weary them, nor the years condemn." With each year that passes, I become more aware of the truth in these lines.
As another anniversary of his death nears Gunnar remains as he was.
And we must remember him.