Memorial Day is one of the most confused holidays, in my opinion. Sure, there are celebrations and get togethers aplenty. People tell veteran’s ‘thank you for your service’ because they don’t know what else to say. I am forced to remind people every year that this is not the day, not the time. Memorial Day, for those of us who returned from the wars, is sacred. It is a time to remember fallen comrades and honor their sacrifices.
This year I decided to share a story. Not of my own, but of those who did not survive. Did not return to their families. This year, is for them.
Tim Steele was a promising cadet when I met him. Bright, competent. He was going to do just fine in the Army. Upon graduation he was assigned an infantry unit and deployed not long after. He was traveling down an Afghan road when and IED detonated and took his life.
Tom Kennedy was a firecracker of an officer. A fellow Redleg, he was energetic and had the sort of personality that drew others to him. I thought he was a great man. He had just had his third child when he received orders to return to Afghanistan. One day Kennedy was standing next to an Afghan military patrol advising them when a terrorist on a motorcycle rolled beside them and detonated. All were killed.
Losing friends was never confined to the battlefield. Nate King was a great commander. I went to war with him twice. He genuinely cared for his soldiers and their families. Airborne, he was eager to get another jump in and get closer to that coveted Jump Master prize. The winds were high that fateful day. They probably shouldn’t have jumped. But they did. King landed so hard his helmet snapped off and he cracked his skull. Brain dead, the family made the difficult decision to pull the plug two days later. His funeral service was the most touching I have endured in a very long time.
Mark Hayry was a clown. I’d known him since he was a young Lieutenant. Funny, he almost seemed incapable of being serious. We deployed to Iraq invasion and he managed to maintain his sense of humor. When the unit deployed again in late 2005 he was left home. I was fortunate to return from my 3rd deployment in time to spend some of it with him before he transferred to another base. He was killed in a motorcycle accident not long after on a lonely Oklahoma road.
Rucks was a great kid. I met him in the late 90s at Fort Bragg. Young and with a family, he had everything going for him. He also had an incurable need for speed. Rucks died one night in Fayetteville, North Carolina while he was drag racing through the streets.
Jovandie LaTorre was a good leader. His soldiers loved him and respected him. It was a quality life he thrived in. Unfortunately his personal life was not as ordered. LaTorre was murdered by his girlfriend one night.
Cornelius Hodges was the absolute coolest dude I have ever met. A former Marine, he switched over to the Army and was loving life. My last memory of him was during his reenlistment ceremony. At the point where he was officially discharged he was asked if he had anything to say. Playing the bit from the movie Half Baked, he turned to those gathered and said, “F you, F you, F you, F you, you’re cool, and F you.” He then proceeded to raise his hand and was sworn back into service. Hodges died from a heart attack.
Scott Schade was the best of us. A hard charger, he rose through the ranks with blistering speed. The last time I saw him was during an iteration of Air Assault School I was tasked with working at. He was a Command Sergeant Major by then and outranked me by a lot. We still talked of the old times and foolishness we enjoyed as youths. Schade had five kids and I told him he was crazy. He had the idyllic life. Or so we thought. Trauma from old deployments haunted him to the point he drove his pickup truck out to a quiet spot on Fort Sill, Oklahoma and put a pistol in his mouth.
This is what Memorial Day is to those of us who have served. It is the solemn promise of never forgetting those who did not return. Those who rest peacefully beneath white tombstones in ordered rows. They are the best of us. These brave men and women who have put everything they hold dear behind them and march valiantly to battle. These are my friends.