Lost On Memorial Day

I stood under the flag and wondered what exactly did my patriotism mean

Today is Memorial Day. Every year I write a post about my fallen brothers MSgt Auckman, SPC Poulin and all the other men and women who have died while serving or have served this country. I am normally pretty proud to stand up and proclaim my patriotism and my support to "never forget" these men and women who fought for my freedoms. I am proud to have served. I am proud to be able to remember the fallen. I am proud to stand and salute the flag and the National Anthem because I served this country.

All that being said, something is different this year. This year, even in my pride, I am not happy. I am actually pretty sad looking at the memes, pictures and memories of fallen men and women all over social media. This last year has forced me to look at patriotism, sacrifice and what it means to defend the Constitution of this country. Even today, having only been out of bed for an hour I have been bombarded with messages that make me question how we got so lost as a nation. I literally expect someone to blame President Obama or President Trump without thought. That is what it is about right now, finger pointing and blame giving. I could write fifty thousands words on all that but that is not what today's blog is about. Today it is about Memorial Day and what I have realized over this last year more and more with each passing day.

Me on a flight from Bagram Air Field heading to Kunar Province in Afghanistan 2011

The picture you see is from my very last combat deployment of my 22-year military career. At the time of the picture I had no idea if I was going to make it home alive, injured physically or mentally or something else. I was serving my country. My unit had already lost SPC Poulin in a rollover accident and even the SGM had been sent home from his wounds. Here I was traveling in country to be with my unit. What you can't tell is I'm thinking about my family, my friends, my battle buddies wondering if any of us understand what we are doing and why. I serve. I am proud to have served. I am proud to see those who serve and have served before me. I am honored to be their brother-in-arms. All that is in this picture.

Today, though, is Memorial Day and I am wondering about the flag that so many fly and wave around. I wonder about the sacrifices. This is the thing, those sacrifices, that have me writing today because I think we forgot what the men and women actually fought for since the Europeans took over this land. Yes, we cannot ignore the truth of our birth as a nation. This land was taken by force and from it rose what we now proudly call America.

There it is from the beginning of our birth as a nation we missed the point. We are missing it even more so in today's society. Memorial Day for those who sacrificed their lives for our way of life is lost. We built a way of life, a core value (Constitution) and enforced it. Men and women died in support and defense of that very core value.

Retsil Veteran Cemetery in Port Orchard, Washington

The Retsil Veteran's Cemetery is on a road a drive often when heading down to take my sunset/sunrise and (hopefully) eagle pictures. One day I drove by and a mist was over it so I stopped and sat for a bit. As I snapped a few pictures I wondered if the men and women buried there would be happy with where we are today. Would they believe their sacrifices were worth it? Would they be proud Americans or disappointed ones? I thought about it. I have not stopped thinking about it. I thought about Auckman and Poulin who never got to see life after the military because of wars overseas (Iraq and Afghanistan specifically). Then I thought about me. What if LS1 Sean L. Brown had been Killed In Action (KIA) in one of those many places he wore his US military uniform defending his country? Would he be proud? Damn, even now that question makes me pause. I know the answer and it still makes me pause. The simple answer is, yes. Yes, I would be proud to have worn my uniforms and give my life for the ideals of this nation. I say that because of what I realized many years ago. That brings me to the point of this blog.

Back in the early 2000's I went home on leave where I got to talking to an old friend from the neighborhood. My friend viewed the military like most government jobs/agencies, as a place dominated by white people, for white people and, more specifically, rich white people. To be truthful that sentiment I've heard a time or two. He asked me, "Why the hell you serving this country that enslaved our people, funneled crack and drugs into our communities and treat us like second class citizens?" My first answer was that if we want to change the way the status quo is we must be part of the change and do our part to be part of the solution. Now, on its own that is a great answer and really what we, as people all over, should be doing to make our world better. However, let me get back on track, that answer wasn't the epiphany. After my buddy and I got done talking I started thinking about it more and had a better answer for myself of why I serve(d) my country.

I, Sean L. Brown, serve my country for the murderers, the rapists, the molesters, the thieves, the abusers, the liars and the worst of the worst in our society. I serve so they would always have the right to fair, honest treatment within our systems. They would have a fair trial if arrested. They would have honest prosecution and a formidable defense. They would be innocent until proven guilty. They would have their rights afforded them by the Constitution.

That is what I came up with in the early 2000's. Over this last few years, since my retirement in 2015, I have revised that to a simpler answer which is what I feel we have lost. I serve for EQUALITY. That is it. That is what the men and women have died for: the equal and fair treatment of EVERY citizen of this nation. That is what is lost. We lost the truth behind our laws. The truth behind our flag. The truth behind the anthem. Every one of them take second seat to the equality of our people.

I honor those who have died by remembering that they died for my right, as a black man, to be considered a full man (not 3/5 of a man) in this country, a woman's right to decide what happens to her body, an immigrant's right to not be persecuted for taking the right steps to become part of this nation, a business person's right to honestly do business and earn as much as his/her hard work brings in and everyone's right to worship their God or Gods of choice without persecution, demonization or fear of abuse from others. They fought for us to remember we as a nation of multi-colors, backgrounds, ethnicities, orientations and abilities should all have the same opportunities as the next person. And I THANK them from every part of my being because I do sit here as a man who stands with those who are oppressed, who are victimized, who are not equal in the eyes of those in power over them. That is what it is about, for me. I honor them by standing up for those who don't have the freedoms that our symbols (flag and anthem) stand for in the first place.

I'll leave this with one last image. I flew 14 or so hours from the States back to Afghanistan with two pallets of coffins on board with us. I stared at the stacked metal boxes in the green light and

Flying back from R&R with a stark reminder that death thrives at our destination

knew that each one of them would leave solo on a pallet going back. Inside would be a Soldier, Sailor, Marine or Airman who gave his or her life in the country. A person whose family would forever be different because of the loss. I flew knowing I still had 4 months to go and that I could very well be laying under the very flag that people are now using as a weapon against people fighting for their own equality. I couldn't have asked for a more in-your-face lesson of why I served than seeing those boxes on that plane taking me back to a war zone. I'll leave with this last line:

One metal box. One body. One flag. One nation. Equal for all!

To those who have died serving this country, I salute you. I hope that I am worthy enough to stand next to you in the afterlife having remembered what serving really means. Until then... Thank You!

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