Memorial Day


In the Spring of 2008, I had the privilege of escorting a group of about 12 Japanese Ground Self Defense Force (their version of the Army) officers to various military bases around the US on a tour of different units, as a way to familiarize these young officers with our own military. One of the places we stopped was Fort Stewart, GA, home of the 3rd Infantry Division. As part of our visit, the 3rd ID staff took us to their large parade field, where we were to take a group picture with our hosts. Around the parade field, 3ID has planted a tree for every 3ID soldier who had fallen in Iraq or Afghanistan. As we walked around with our guide, I made a point to look at the names on each plaque at the base of the trees. Walking along, I found a name that looked familiar--a warrant officer, a Kiowa pilot with 3ID's cavalry squadron. I had been stationed twice in Korea with the cavalry squadron in 2ID, and many people I had known had moved on to Fort Stewart. We were in Korea when Iraq kicked off, and then I moved to Japan and had been there since, but knew that many I'd served previously with would have gone on to units deployed to combat. Still, it was a sobering reminder to see the name of someone I knew on a plaque at the base of a tree, telling me they had died. We kept walking...and I saw another name I knew. And then another. And at this point, I excused myself from the group as they walked. I needed to look at every tree. And I spent the next 15 minutes reading every name, walking from tree to tree, alone. My Japanese counterparts continued on with their guide, and I rejoined them in time for our group picture, but only after seeing 6 or 7 names of Soldiers I had worked with, remembered there on those small brass plaques. It's at that point the enormity of it all hit me. As I said, I'd been in Korea when Iraq started, and then moved to Japan after that. The war was always present in our minds there, especially as more and more of our incoming soldiers were coming from deployments, but my focus was doing what I was doing on this trip--working with the Japanese, building core task as a Foreign Area Officer. Seeing those names...6 or 7 out of maybe 100 from one unit on one post...I couldn't help but wonder how many names I would recognize at similar memorials at Fort Lewis, or Fort Hood, or Fort Bragg, or... I would later go myself to Afghanistan, and by the grace of God came home to my family. Today, many of us will grill outside, drink a few beverages of our choice, and spend the day enjoying our friends and family. I dare not presume to speak on behalf of those who did not make it back safe, but I would imagine that is how they would want us to enjoy today. Those of us who serve do so in order that all of us may continue to enjoy the lives we lead as Americans. Just please, in the midst of your merry-making, take a brief moment to remember those names on those plaques. They're not just names--they were husbands, sons, brothers, mothers, daughters, and sisters. They were friends and comrades. Many of us carry our memories of them daily. Today, it is for us all to remember.