While listening to the radio last week in the midwest, I heard an advertisement reminding listeners that Memorial Day is a time to remember our loved ones and that we should honor them by giving blood. Yesterday, another ad frenetically raved that this weekend heralded their annual “tent event,” and they would be selling cars at deep discounts. A third announcement reminded us all to be safe as we kicked off our summers with a cookout. A fourth admonished us to buckle our seatbelts. All I could think about was Eddie.
The mission went completely to hell when one of our humvees was engulfed in the fireball from a carbomb, but we were relieved to learn a few minutes later those inside sustained only relatively minor injuries and had been evacuated. Eddie, before the debris even settled from the explosion, had led two more humvees off in search of a triggerman, tearing north along the Euphrates River and quickly searching any suspicious persons as they continued. Moments later, both of their vehicles were devastatingly hit by a “daisy-chain” IED. As the survivors tried to save the dying, one humvee lay burning and the other badly damaged, we lost radio contact.
An hour later, the platoon commander gathered the remnants of our unit for debriefing. We were missing multiple humvees, personnel, and unsure what had happened to them all. He began to speak quietly:
“Anthony took a piece of shrapnel into the back of his head, but he’s going to be okay. Jake got some in the face, but he’ll be fine, too.”
He paused and looked completely miserable.
“Ron got hit with shrapnel and a bullet in his shoulder and they’ve already evacuated him. He’ll be alright once they dig out the metal. But Eddie…”
His lip trembled.
“…Eddie didn’t make it.”
He had died doing what he loved and for those he loved - many of whom he never met.
It is written that, “greater love hath no man than this; that a man lay down his life for his friends.” How much more his love, I should think, that a man lay down his life for a stranger. I can fathom no higher honor.
When I think of Memorial Day, I think of Eddie, and the roughly 623,000 men and women who have died similarly violent, premature deaths in service to this country. More than a sea of tombstones, though, I see an irrevocably changed nation.
I see children growing up without a father, wives painfully aware of how empty their houses have suddenly become, fathers overcome with grief as they bury the broken bodies of their sons and daughters – legacies that were meant to long outlive their parents. I see a nation bent in mourning for her youngsters but standing proud for having produced men and women of such selfless character.
This holiday doesn’t mark a long weekend, a huge sale or a backyard cookout. Instead, it is a solemn day of freedom, one purchased at high cost. Yet those who deserve the honor are no longer with us to receive it.
We, this land, the flags on tombstones and flying in parades, the families of the fallen, the widows and widowers – this free nation is the memorial; a living, breathing one. We dwell in a place of perpetual gratitude and debt.
Let us remember today, let us fall silent, let us set an empty place at our tables for those still missing. Let us mourn the great expense of our freedom, and celebrate those who were willing to pay for it. And in our somber quiet, let us pray for peace, make ready for war, and always remember.
Thomas Jefferson once wrote that, “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time, with the blood of patriots and tyrants.” Tragically, he is correct. In the past week, more than five patriots have paid the ultimate price. Today, I will be thinking of Eddie.
“It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that the government : of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” - Abraham Lincoln, Gettysburg, PA, Nov 19th 1863
Copyright © 2009, Ben Shaw, All Rights Reserved