Thursday, April 2, 2009

For the Fallen

I've attended far too many memorial ceremonies since I joined then Marines. When I got out, I thought I would never have to go to one again. About a month and a half after I got here, I attended my first one as a civilian. And I attended another one today.

When a Marine or Soldier dies in combat, it's sad. But it's accepted. Or I should say, it's acceptable. When we sign take the oath, for whatever reason we are doing it, we understand that the cost of those words may be our life. None of us want to pay that price, but we are all willing. So when you're in the war zone, and someone dies, it's sort of expected. Maybe not that person at that time, but the entire time you are here there just a quiet knowledge that it's going to happen to someone. And so when they pull you into that quiet little room, and they tell you that we have just lost one of our own, the thought isn't, "Oh no!" It's, "I hope it's not someone I knew well."

And this wasn't someone I knew well. In a base of around 100 soldiers it's hard to get to know everyone. But he was one that everyone knew. One of the soldiers at his memorial described him as the glue that held his unit together. He was always walking around, laughing, joking with people, mocking and ridiculing people (a favorite pastime amongst the military.) When I heard he had been killed, I was confused, because his job didn't really take him outside of the base that often. Here's the real kick in the nuts, he was home on leave. He wasn't killed by a roadside bomb, or by jumping on a hand grenade to save his fellow soldiers. He didn't die in a firefight defending a country that couldn't care less for the blood that is shed for them. He was killed at home, by some piece of shit kid that doesn't deserve the air he breathes.

The worst part of the ceremony for me has always been the final roll call. The ceremony starts out with an invocation from the chaplain, then various soldiers speak. When all that is done, there is the final roll call. Everyone stands, and the First Sergeant calls out some names of soldiers, who all answer, "here First Sergeant!" The last name that is called is the name of the fallen soldier. The name echoes through the ranks, and silence answers back. They call the name three times, and the First Sergeant reports the loss of a soldier to the Commander. They fire the 21 gun salute, and Taps is played. That song still gives me chills when I hear it.

Then everyone, in pairs and threesomes, walks up to the display. It has a picture of the fallen, boots, a rifle, helmet, and dog tags. They kneel, then stand and salute, then walk away. I never know what to say to people who are in mourning, and in this case, as in all military funerals, no words are needed. No words will comfort, and no words will replace the loss of a friend, a brother. I shake their hand, give them a hug and a nod, and they understand. We've all shared the same pain. No words will suffice.

Then we carry on with the day. Because the mission comes first.

Rest in peace brother.

No comments: