Most of you know that I’m a writer. What many of you may not know, unless you read my bio, is that I’m a Veteran. I served in the US Army Reserves (34th ID) and National Guard (47th ID) of Minnesota from 1991. Total, I served 17 years. I gave it up when I took a full-time job doing the exact same thing I was doing as a reservist. It was too much to cram in.
One of my favorite assignments was working at Fort McCoy, Wisconsin. I was an instructor. I loved that job. There was never a day that I didn’t enjoy what I was doing and who I was doing it with. I was truly blessed.
I’m not much for sentimentality. I like to observe tradition and remember events and happenings in my own way. Every memorial day I tend to focus on the embodiment of what that day means.
While I was teaching, we had one particularly difficult student. He literally took about seventy percent of our collective energies to get him through. Ultimately it wasn’t the instructors that got him through (we were ready to let him fail). It was a fellow classmate of his, a U.S. Army Ranger who had recently left active duty. This soldier was getting retrained and would be joining his new reserve unit in Afghanistan. Let’s call him SSG Davis.
SSG Davis worked with this other solider day and night to make sure he understood the material. It was very difficult for him because he essentially studied for two. He would shrug it off and say that he was essentially helping himself, but we worried that he would wear himself out. SSG Davis not only got this other soldier to the end of his studies, he maintained one of the highest averages in the class.
To me, SSG Davis embodies what it means to serve selflessly. He gave and gave of himself. We, as a school, had nothing we can really give to out students as an award for superior performance. But we did manage to present him with a certificate to show our appreciation. We found a Colonel to sign it so it could go in his official record and be used for promotion points. It wasn’t much, but it was something to show we appreciated his efforts.
A year later, SSG Davis was on patrol somewhere in Afghanistan. The ambush of his patrol was well planned and organized. With explosions ripping apart their vehicle like a paper doll, he got out to meet the oncoming enemy force. In the distance, one of his fellow soldiers lay wounded. Symptomatic of his personality, he used his remaining strength to try an save his fellow soldier. SSG Davis died from small arms fire in the rescue attempt.
I was lucky to have never been sent to a battlefield in my career. Twice I was supposed to go, but they canceled my orders and sent me to other assignments because of my specialty. But I feel the sting when I hear of soldiers dying on the battlefield. My brothers and sisters in uniform who make the supreme sacrifice deserve to be remembered. Not with a barbecue, but with a moment of silence.
There is nothing you can do to bring these American sons and daughters back from the dead, but you can make sure they live on in our collective memory. Visit a military cemetery or memorial. Tell your children about the need for service and sacrifice. Show them the headstones at the cemetery and teach them that taking the time to remember the names on the stones is one way to keep their memories alive. Remember that each one of them made a solemn oath to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.”
God Bless all the SSG Davis’ out there. May you rest in peace. As long as I have blood flowing through my veins, you’ll never be forgotten.
-Your Humble Servant, Bryan the Veteran