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27 May

People think about lots of different things about during Memorial Day weekend.

As most of America has never served (and many people don’t even closely know someone who has), this weekend is mostly filled with concerns about hamburger count, cases of beer, and travel times to the beach.   It’s easy to forget, especially if you have never served, why we even have this weekend in the first place.   For so many Americans, it’s just another holiday.

But it’s not.

I’m not a combat vet, and can’t imagine what combat would be like. But even without that horrific experience, this weekend brings with it faces I can’t stop seeing.   Classmates or alumni who I either knew or knew of that aren’t here anymore.  People my age or close whose lives intertwined with mine maybe only briefly but whose faces I can CLEARLY see.  Megan McClung and Kylan Huffman, both KIA.  AJ Barbosa, Matt Bancroft, and Terri Fussner, all killed during aircraft missions on deployments.  Scott Bracher, Frank Witwer, and Mike Hillegas, all killed during stateside aircraft accidents.

None were close friends. Six were classmates.  I was on the fencing team with Kylan (he was way better than me).  AJ was in my training group for a summer training.  Scott was the same major as I, and when we graduated there weren’t many Aerospace Engineers left.  I played volleyball with Mike many weekends when we were both in flight school in Florida.  Megan was a plebe in my company at USNA, a year behind me, and one of the first people I was ever expected to train or teach ANYTHING.  I can’t even remember where I met Matt or Frank, but they were classmates and I saw their faces vividly as soon as I heard they died.  And Terri, I never even met her, but I served as the Casualty Assistance Coordinator Officer (CACO) for her family when they had to come bury her at the Academy after her helicopter crashed.  They were all people who walked the same hallways I did for the same or similar four long years, and had hopes and dreams and loves and families and put that all aside so they could do a job that ended up costing them their lives.  And when you add their lives and stories to the other 1.3 MILLION stories of those who died in the service of our country, it gets to be a pretty weighty thing for me.   And when you consider that there are still quite a few veterans who ARE combat vets among us, when I imagine how THEIR experiences are weighing on their minds this weekend, it makes me shudder.

Those 1.3+ million stories are the point of the weekend. Not the burgers, not the beach.  I’m not saying don’t enjoy the weekend they paid for.  I am saying don’t forget that it was a pretty hefty tab, and if you are going to raise a glass this weekend for whatever reason, make the first toast to those that aren’t here anymore.

I close with this. Don’t call it a poem, because you all know I hate poetry.

A Combat Vet’s reflection of Memorial Day

You think about a long weekend.

I remember long deployments.

You look forward to seeing your buddies at the beach.

I remember watching mine die on one.

You look forward to sleeping in for three days.

I remember three days without sleep.

You think you might drink until you can’t remember what happened.

I drink to forget what happened.

You know your closest friends will never leave you.

I know many of mine are already gone.

You look forward to this weekend.

I wish we had no reason for it.

And neither of us will ever forget it.

One Response to Thoughts on Memorial Day weekend…

  1. Yvonne

    May 31, 2017 at 4:39 pm

    Well said Rob, keep writing!!

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