At least one time each day of the week I drive up or down a road that passes through a veterans cemetery. Each time I drive by I look at the white headstones neatly lined in rows and spaced equally with the green grass backdrop. Sometimes I get lost in thought thinking about the men and women lying in this place. I think about wars passed and the lives gone in "honor" of something, be it country, family, honor, pride, and even hate. I never fail to have some sort of thought about those graves as I drive by. I never fail to go down the rabbit trail in some fashion or other. I never fail to think of MSgt Steve Auchman (5th Air Support Operations Squadron, Ft Lewis, Washington) and SPC Dennis Poulin (181st Infantry assigned to PRT Kunar, Kunar, Afghanistan). These two guys stay with me as I walk through this life. Every time I pass this cemetery I remember them, or the war, or the aftermath of it all. In fact, before I get deep into this blog, let me do the most important part of it first:
Every Memorial Day I have to be thankful for the men and women who gave their lives for the ideals of this nation. I have to thank my personal brothers MSgt Auchman and SPC Poulin for inspiring me, through their sacrifice, to be a better person than I was before and to try to do a little more each day to make this world a better place. I'm thankful for these two guys, who I would not have been able to pick out of a group if you paid me to do it, for keeping me grounded and honoring their names day in and day out. Every year, on April 1st usually, I have a beer in their honor. Every Memorial Day I sit and reflect on what they can no longer do in this life. I honor them because I will never let them be forgotten if I can help it.
This picture is of the framed flag that was flown for me over Kunar Province in Afghanistan. These are the first beers I had in the memory of Auchman (KIA 2004, Mosul, Iraq) and Poulin (KIA 2011, Kunar, Afghanistan) back in 2012. I hope to never forget to salute these guys because, as it is said, they are "gone but not forgotten." I try to honor them, not because I owe it to them. I do it because they can't do it for themselves. Every once in a while I drive by that cemetery and thank these guys for helping me stand up when I am not sure I want to stand. For helping me to want to be better when most days I am good where I am at in life. For helping me understand that life is a gift, and the breath we take is nothing short of the most precious thing in the world. Every day, not just Memorial Day, is in their honor. I hope I do them justice because they did not make it.
They did not make it.
They did not make it.
They did not make it.
April 1, 2019 is the anniversary of the day I was officially informed SPC Poulin had succumbed to his injuries and was pronounced deceased. I sit at sunset or sunrise if I can and have a beer for both of these men. I pour one out for them and I drink the other. It may not mean much in the big scheme of things, but, for me, it means the world. It means I am taking time to remember my fallen brothers. The military teaches us tradition, and I've learned to carry my own. Again, I hope I never forget to do it. I hope, if there is a place after this one, that they know how much we all honor them and wish they were here doing whatever it is they wanted to do in life. Thank you for your sacrifice, brothers. I honor you because you did not make it. Which brings me to the actual purpose of this blog.
They did not make it!
While I will always pay homage to those who have died defending the ideals of this country, I find this year that Memorial Day is different for me. Like I said earlier, every time I drive by that cemetery I get to thinking. Yes, I think about the men and women in the graves. Yes, I think about my fallen brothers Auchman and Poulin. Yes, I think about all the men and women who have lost their lives either on battlefields, in tragedies, or by their own hands. All that is true. Yet, one thought hit me a few weeks ago: for the first time I wondered what I would think had I not made it out of one of the war zones I spent time in. What if, like my brothers, I "did not make it"? I'll be honest, every time I think of this question it sits like the weight of all the headstones at the Retsil cemetery stacked on me. It's a crazy feeling thinking about the very real possibility of a different outcome that includes my death. It is even crazier knowing that the people who are very close to me are currently having a hard time reading this paragraph. Knowing that is a bit (selfishly) refreshing, it means I am loved, which touches me. Yet, it does not stop the weight of the question on my chest, heart, and mind.
As the chill runs over my body even now, I am picturing what that all means... I didn't make it. I wonder what picture would be used as the final one to "remember" me by? I can see the military putting out this picture, showing me in my uniform, having just won Sailor of the Quarter for the
Navy Reserves. Yup, this picture would probably be in the paper with the write-up. I think about the reporter writing the story of what happened and sharing how LS1 Sean L. Brown was a valuable member of the team, who loved serving his country and his family. Every year on the anniversary someone would share this image to remember me, like I do for Auchman and Poulin.