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.
Wow, I didn't realize how hard this one is to write. I have to write it though. I have to share with anyone who will read this nagging question and thought in my head. The echoes of the men and women in a cemetery I drive by, repeating the feeling inside me. I realize you, the reader, don't know what the nagging question is since I've been up and down on this blog. The question that hit me those few weeks ago was this:
Would they think it was worth it?
That question was the seed that got planted in my head. It is the one that sparked the internal conversation I'm still having now. Would MSgt Auchman think the war in Iraq was worth his sacrifice? Would Poulin think the war in Afghanistan was worth his life? Which brings it back to me and my thought of not making it. Would my sacrifice have been worth it? If I could look into the future after my death, would I be proud of what I see and know that giving my life for it was the way to go. Of course, this is all speculation, but it is pulsing through me with every word i type.
You see, we praise these men and women for dying for us. We swear that they did the right thing for our "American" way of life. We thank the moms and dads, husbands, wives, kids, and friends of the fallen for enduring the pain of losing a husband, wife, son, daughter, or friend to battle. Because it is a holiday, we no longer understand what that sacrifice actually sounded like or felt like. No. All we think about is how strong we look in our uniforms with our weapons and our
superior military might. We are proud to show these images and give an "atta-boy" to those in uniform. But again, there are parts we don't talk about. It is that part that has me thinking.
We don't think about the screams of a kid hitting a hot landing zone and having bullet after bullet rip through his flesh. We don't talk about the medic or whomever is close by sitting there with a hand shoved inside a buddy's wound hoping the bleeding will stop while trying not break down knowing he or she will die. We don't talk about the agony suffered by Vietnam veterans who died in hot, humid, thick jungles from where some never made it home. We don't talk about the hours the wounded lay on the ground trying to keep quiet so the enemy didn't find them, only to run out of time before being saved.
Is it worth it?
I'm thinking about the Negro soldiers who fought and died alongside the Caucasian soldiers even though they, the Negro soldiers, weren't considered equal, nor had the proper full battle gear, nor the respect of the Caucasian soldiers. Yet, they fought. If one of them could see where we are in the world today, would they think it was worth their lives?. I think of the Confederate soldiers who, like their Union counterparts, painted the South red with their own blood, from bloody battle to bloody battle. When the Confederates lost and the Union had changed, do you think they would say it was worth it?
Back to me. I know the answer to the question if I had died in combat. No. No, fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan was not worth my life. It wasn't worth the picture and the moments of silence on the anniversary of the death. I sit with this thought of me being remembered on days like this and seeing the pain on my loved one's face because I gave it all... but for what? Have we made it better? The world, that is. That's what brought me to the question, what made me think of all the men and women who have died before, those we sit and praise for our "freedoms" today. Would they look and see the world today and think it was worth it?
It made me sad to think that I was questioning whether the sacrifice had been worth it. It did make me sad, for a moment, because the question tells me that I know, as a nation, we have work to do. The sacrifices made by those in uniform (and civilians, too) will only be worth it if we continue to grow as a united people of America. See, when the Black soldiers, the Navajo Windtalkers, the Japanese translators, the Whites, the Hispanics, the men and the women, and every other thing in-between, have the same rights, the same justice and the same unity, then it will be worth it. Then I realize I'm not sad about it not being worth it. I'm sad because I didn't realize what is worth it.
I did make it.
I did make it.
I did make it.
As you can see, luckily, I didn't die on the battlefield. I get to make sure their deaths aren't in vain. They didn't die making the world perfect. They died trying to stop it from being worse. We have work to do. We have a lot of work to do. I have a lot of work to do. I owe it those men and women, who gave all for the idea of what our country is "supposed" to stand for, to make it a reality. How can I stand on the hallowed grounds of their resting place and not feel the sorrow?
I do it by standing up for those who are weak. I stand up for those who do not have the same rights as I do or as others do. I stand up and carry on with the mission of bringing Truth, Justice and the American Way to EVERY...SINGLE...AMERICAN. These men and women did not fight to have our nation divided. They fought throughout history to have a nation that is better than it was when they served.
Memorial Day is about remembering. I will remember not only MSgt Auchman and SPC Poulin but everyone who has served with honor in the military. I am going to do that because I never got relieved of my watch. We never stop serving and we, the military few, owe it to the fallen to improve our nation for EVERYBODY. It is our mission.
So, I ask you, the reader, how do you honor our freedoms? I'll leave you with that one little nugget.
To the fallen, thank you. I am grateful to have followed your footsteps. Rest in peace, my brothers and sisters.
Just A Thought, my friends.