I’ll start with the lighter, good news: I ran 17.5 miles yesterday, part of which was in an organized trail run with the Wellington Scottish. The legs are feeling strong and healthy, and although not 100%, I’m gaining confidence. It put me at about 60 miles for the week, which is another milestone. Again, I’ve been slowly adding miles to prepare for the 50 miler in late August. The improvements continue.
My second subject is Memorial Day. It is hard to put into words, sometimes, what it means to a person, because the range of emotions are great. Generally, the closer the loss, the more the person identifies with that soldier, sailor, airman or marine that passed away. There are three names that I carry with me all the time, that I see in my mind’s eye; the feeling is significantly enhanced for Memorial Day. In fact, the very first time I came home after my first deployment to Iraq, I sat in a Memorial Day church service in which the minister chose to include a short slide show of Minnesotans that had been killed in action. It only took until, I think, the third one in the slideshow, for a face similar to one of the three that I keep with me – and I had to very quickly exit and find my way to a bathroom. It was amazing to me how violently an emotional response can surface…
I’ve been targeting stories related to soldier remembrance this past week, and found two that I hope you look at.
The first has its genesis in a NY Times article about General Martin Dempsey, the newly minted Army Chief of Staff that will soon be nominated to be the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. [As a side note, he was the one that conferred on me the “Army Athlete of the Year” award.] In the story, there are two paragraphs that I can identify with, and I think exemplify what nearly every soldier, sailor, airman and marine feel toward fallen friends:
On General Dempsey’s Pentagon desk is a carved wooden box, one of three made for him and his two deputy commanders of the First Armored Division after their Iraq deployment in 2003 and 2004. Inside, General Dempsey keeps laminated cards, each bearing a photograph and biographical information on one of the 122 soldiers killed in action during the 15-month mission.
Every morning, General Dempsey opens the box and selects a half-dozen cards that he carries in his pocket that day. On the box is etched “Make It Matter,” a reminder that his four-star responsibilities must serve the memory of those troops.
My second story is about an Army couple, Max and Kim Voelz – both EOD techs that served in the same unit in Iraq in 2003-2004. I won’t beat around the bush: Kim died while responding to a mission that Max had to send her on (as she was nearer the bomb). The National Public Radio story includes a link to Max telling the story, in his own words, as part of a larger American audio history effort (Storycorps). It is, in a word, heartbreaking.
I’m sincerely sorry if this has been a depressing post. In my estimation, there is no way around how brutal and horrifying war is for combatants and those left behind. Deaths never end, because the memories of those deaths continue on as unseen wounds in wives, husbands, fathers, mothers, children…and that is certainly part of Memorial Day.
We are thankful for their sacrifice, honor it appropriately, but always remember that at its core is a terrible gap that can never be repaired.