Their Chairs Are Empty, but We Know What Their Sacrifice Was For

*Note: This essay was published in the Wall Street Journal print edition on May 26, 2017.

I didn’t even know I was crying until half my face was wet. It was Memorial Day 2004, and I had just returned from a year of fighting as a cavalry officer in Iraq. I was sitting in a sea of parishioners at my parents’ church for a holiday-themed Sunday, complete with tiny flags and people thanking me for my service. It was all very nice until the minister’s voice trailed off and an enormous screen showed images of American soldiers recently lost.

Then I saw him. No, it wasn’t him, exactly, but the guy on the screen looked enough like one of the soldiers under my command who had been killed that I was overwhelmed by tears. I pushed my way down the pew, ran to a bathroom and stayed there until the storm passed.

Like so many others, my wars have been marked by the distinct cruelty of rapid, random and repeated death of young soldiers. There was the tank driver who drowned in the desert. The experienced leader who accidentally discharged his weapon, killing a nearby squad mate. The lieutenant who had written two years earlier as a cadet that his favorite time of day was when “Taps” played: “One day it will play at my funeral and when it does, I pray that I am deserving enough of that honor.” He was.

Read the rest at the Wall Street Journal.

Author: ML Cavanaugh

Unequal parts strategist, assistant professor, wordsmith, runner, wine-o, reader, philosopher of firepower, and hopeless lover of three ladies named Rachel, Grace, and Georgie.

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