By Joe DeCree
One of the problems with Memorial Day is that it is so hard to get our heads around the complexities of what we feel about it. We are glad to be home (some more than others). We are glad we did our job, again some more than others. We might be glad we are alive. We are probably still willing to trade places with the ones who did not make it back. We can talk about funny stories, the brothers we lost, and maybe a fire fight or two. But we can’t express the things that civilians can’t get their heads around because Instagram and Tik-Tok have not yet dubbed them as cool. You know what I mean, the things that get the weird looks and the “oh yeah, I read about that” with a blank stare. Or worse you get the 20 questions so that they can validate everything they ever read about all the ops you were never on. Either way, eight questions into it and you are looking for an escape from the conversation.
It is easy to ask in such moments “why me, God?” The real answer to that may be as complex as our “can’t live with them / can’t shoot them” relationship with civilians. These scenarios have become normal for us. We don’t quite express all that we think and feel because it is just easier not to. After all how does an oak explain to the ant what it feels like to be walked on? We used to have to suck up the “needs of the service” above what we wanted but those days are over right? Hold your fire and keep scanning your range fan on that.
The needs of the service don’t apply now you say and “this is my life!” Well, let’s look at that, maybe they do. When we were in uniform we could all recite the Big 3 of God, country and family. It was the trinity of our lives when we were serving. If we look deeper then we will see that these are our connections. Connections to God, country, and family. They almost define themselves. They are relationships. They are priorities for living. We did not magically lose them when we hang up the super suit. They are ours. We are theirs. They are our connections and priorities. Be them.
I really don’t like Memorial Day. I hate the memories of loss that threaten to return afresh. I hate remembering that I used to be a warrior but will not die as one and that I am jealous of my dead brothers. Memorial Day reminds me that I am stuck in the mundane. I don’t like hearing civilians whine, seeing fake news. We lost friends, you know, the ones who got to die doing what we love. Ironically their sacrifice means we did not get to make ours. The one thing that I needed to prove to myself was that I would/could defend my boys and my country all the way and without reservation. I will not get that chance again.
I have a confession to make. I am jealous of our dead brothers. Yes, Jealous. Why? You already know because a lot of you feel it too, but I will say it aloud so as to take its power back. Here it is: they got to die a gunfighter’s death; boots on, eyes open, trading blows with an enemy. There is some dignity in that. What do we get? Annoying election cycles, old age, enlarged prostates, diapers? Awesome. So when the civilians say “yes, but you’re still alive!” I just smile and say “yes” rather than telling them that I am jealous, I miss my dead brothers, and miss who I was.
The needs of our service now are still ingrained in us, however. God, country, and family. For these we were spared the death we wondered if we could go to (the answer is yes, you would have taken the bullet if need be. Do not question that about yourself). The “needs of the service” demand that we go forward now. This is a good news-bad news thing. We covered the bad; we lost buddies, we are jealous, and we die slowly with no real distinction from the civilians we only half respect. “But what do we gain, sir?” Glad you asked. We get to deepen those connections of God, country, and family. We miss one privilege only to gain another. We cannot honor the fallen by perpetual mourning. We honor the fallen by allowing their sacrifice to let ourselves live well. Living well means, God, country, and family. It always has for us.
So the question now becomes, what should we do for those connections, those priorities?Have we done the operator level maintenance on these? Some of us are guilty of not doing it. Others of doing it badly. The good news is that it is not too late.
Take the day to grieve and honor our brothers and sisters. Educate the civilians how “Happy Memorial Day” is inappropriate at best and maybe even insulting in the worst. Don’t go out if you don’t want to. If you find someone you can talk to then do it even if they are a civilian. Maybe that is the person God sent to you just for that moment. I am going to the cemeteries this Memorial Day and I am unconcerned about the quarantine orders. But after we do our duty to the fallen, return to the living and let’s do our duty to them too. God, country, and family. The mission parameters have changed radically but the mission goes on. Thank the fallen for taking that shot and honor them by living deeply. I believe they can see us and that we will rally point on them in the afterlife. What if this became our new normal? What if we keep those three as land navigation points on the horizon and really lived again? Charlie Mike, boys.