There are those who do not know this part of me. They will ask: Who is this man? and Who is this man to you? To their Facebook queries and offhand inquiries I will tell them just that. He is a soldier. A son. A fallen hero. He deserves to be remembered. You must remember his name. He is a casualty of war. You must remember that he is a person. And he has left behind very real people who still mourn him but have carried on.
Who is he to me? He is the soft note of sorrow in every sad and patriotic song. He is "the land of the free and the home of the brave." The red in the stripes that fly overhead. To me he is the first casualty in a list that continues to grow. He made me understand what I had begun and its importance. Where pride and pain intersect. He is a drop in the bucket that turned a project into a mission. Honor. Courage. Commitment. Loyalty, Duty, Respect, Selfless-Service, Honor, Integrity, Personal Courage. He taught me more than he could ever know. In some ways, Gunnar was one of those first defining steps into the realities of adulthood. He prepared me to send someone I love to war. He prepared me for Will. For Jessica and Jonathon. For Kyle.
The things that I've learned in the last nine years, the things I have been taught, are why I cannot walk away. Gunnar is a part of that. I cannot accept the refrain: "Haven't you done enough? Just stop with the letters. The boxes. The names. The stories. Walk away." But I am the keeper of stories, even if many of them now live in a footlocker in my garage or inside me, tucked away and guarded. I will not break faith with those who live or those who die. Steve, wherever you are, I will keep my promise. I will not let them be forgotten.
Since Gunnar was also a poet I offer this tribute in verse. May your words forever live beside these as they capture the life and experience of soldiers. I can't wait to hang out with you some day. In the meantime, your mom is pretty remarkable. Keep looking after her and exercising those angel wings. You will live forever in the memories of those who knew you and you can be assured that you will not be forgotten.