Before 2004, Memorial Day was just a time to relax, mess around and barbeque. Before 2004, it was something of a celebration to mark the beginning of summer and the end of school. Before 2004, I knew intellectually that a lot of people had died for this country, but it had never connected with me. Before 2004 I would never have understood how worth fighting for this country is. In 2004, I saw war. I saw death. I saw mutilation. I saw good men turned into hamburger. But I also saw the kind of strength that you won’t see on the news. I saw men who were clearly scared silly “put their shit on” day after day and run up and down IED strewn roads. I saw men and women go out for hours upon hours of patrols and return with while lines in their uniforms from the salt they had sweated out. I watched soldiers refuse to give up on a people that had been ruled by fear as long as most living could remember.
I returned home to a country that did indeed honor my service, though not uniformly. I returned to a country that was at war, but said war was not outwardly evident. I returned to a country blessed with generations of freedom from oppression and tyranny, and the fruits such a life could provide. How many children here never need fear a government that will target them because they pray to the wrong God (or don’t pray at all)? Our children are free to love and be loved by whom they chose. They are free to chose their own path in life. Despite the fact that there are hardly any civilians that know what a CMB is, and despite the fact that our education system is so dismal many high school children couldn’t even place where Iraq was on a map, I came away with the certainty that America was an idea worth fighting for. America is an idea worth dying for. Lest anyone tell you otherwise America is, at its core an IDEA.
We have planted the seed of this idea in a region that couldn’t be more inhospitable. Like a gnat in a blast furnace we tried to bring Pax Americana to the worlds most horrendously dangerous and unstable region. We have paid a price in dearest blood so that others might live beneath the shade of the Tree of Liberty. We have tried to do this before, in Kuwait, in Panama, in Grenada, Vietnam, Korea, Europe. . . the whole world is almost literally covered with dead Americans who at one point or another raised their right hands and sore to defend the highest ideal of our society. We weren’t always successful, or even right. Despite this, we are an honorable people, who are always willing to extend the hand of friendship to our one time enemies.
To me the Star Spangled Banner will literally bring tears to my eyes. The words have meaning. I have seen the rocket’s red glare. I have felt the bombs bursting in air, and despite it all the Flag was still there. This symbol for a land too vast for one person to take in, a people so diverse, yet unified, still fills my heart with pride and my eyes with tears when it waves proudly over scenes of devastation like those in Oklahoma. When it drapes the coffin of a young man or woman that gave their last full measure of devotion. This nation has some of the bravest sons of bitches you can imagine, and it has been truly an honor to put my boots in their footsteps. That so many young talented, truly great men and women would lay it all on the line for their country truly says something about this country, and I can say without shame or reservation that I truly Love this country. With every fiber of my being I love America.
This Memorial Day weekend will be a long weekend for me in many ways. I will have to face some of my deepest held fears among which that I failed as a medic, that there was some bit of training I had neglected that might have saved a life. I will face the fear that the country I so love has forgotten me, and my kinsmen. I will face my fear that I should have died out there, that I failed as a soldier to meet the enemy and deliver unto him the unequivocal ass kicking he so deserved. I will face the fear that there are brothers and sisters in arms right now that I should be helping but am not, and we may lose them because they didn’t have a battle buddy when they needed one. I will face the fear that I will one day need a battle buddy when my past gets the better of me. I will face the ultimate fear that I am weak in spirit and in mind that I should be so easily overcome by so relatively little when compered to great men and women who go forth and do great things minus limbs or with sever deformity.
I know many other veterans will look at pictures of the headstones in Arlington. I know that many other veterans will have a quiet moment where they raise a glass to absent companions. I know many other veterans feel as I do, and will relate to almost every single word I have written. I remind you, look around. There is such goodness in our people. Your battle buddies are not gone. The spirit of their courage, of their devotion lives on all around you. Their insatiable humor, or their devotion to duty, or whatever aspect of your brothers or sisters that you miss can be found infused in the People. We the People may have lost some truly outstanding individuals, but because of those sacrifices our nation has not known some of the horrors war can bestow on a people. Because some brave American souls held the line the world is a safer place. For that reason if no other I will rest a little easier this Memorial Day weekend.
In memory of:
SPC Daniel J McConnell, 27 Duluth MN 16 November 2004
SPC David P Mahlenbrock, 20 Maple Shade NJ 3 December 2004
SPC Andre Craig Jr., 24 New Haven CT 25 June 2007
PFC James J Harrelson, 19 Dadeville AL 17 July 2007
SFC James D Doster, 37 Pine Bluff AR 29 September 2007
veteran Neil D Holmes, 32 Suicide on 26 May 2011