For military families, this 3-day weekend in the U.S. is much more than the kick-off to Summer: it is the weekend that reminds us of the extraordinary sacrifice of those in our military/Armed Services who have died while defending our country. Memorial Day, originally called Decoration Day, began after the Civil War to remember those who gave the ultimate sacrifice. It is fitting that in America where we enjoy freedom and prosperity at such remarkable levels that we take the time to recognize those who gave it all in defense of our way of life.
Tonight, on the eve of Memorial Day however, I want to personally recognize some other military personnel whose deaths occurred while in the service of their country.
I served on active duty with the US Navy during what was considered to be a time of peace. I worked at a large US Naval Hospital and spent a lot of time working the 2nd shift in the Medical Laboratory. If you’ve ever worked an off-shift in a clinical role in a hospital, you’ll know what I mean when I say that the patients became “ours”. On the off-shifts (in the lab, anyway) one or two of us were running all the STAT testing on the patient who has “gone bad” in the Emergency Department or in one of the Critical Care units. We tend to remember these patients a lot longer than we would if they passed by us in a large batch on day shift.
For some reason this year as Memorial Day drew near, I began to think of one young man who died from injuries he sustained on his ship. This then led to more memories and I decided to remember a few of the sailors lost during the years I served, by name.
Paul was 19 years old and worked as an “Airedale” on a carrier. He was working night ops one evening where jets were taking off and landing on his ship. Something went wrong and he was dragged across the deck by a landing jet, shirring one leg off at the knee, ripping one arm off, severely damaging his torso, and his other arm and leg. He was Medivac’d to the Naval Hospital. The skilled Navy surgeons saved his life and he spent several weeks in the Intensive Care Unit at the Naval Hospital. Although he initially responded to treatment, he eventually lost his battle to the wounds he sustained that evening.
Robert was a tall, smart and handsome man. He was a skilled Hospital Corpsman and well-respected by the Navy Nurses he worked with on the wards. I had met him at the Naval Hospital Corps School in Great Lakes. We both got orders to San Diego, and only 1 year after we arrived there, he ended up in the ICU with a disease that we were all just learning about. Robert died only a few months after first becoming ill.
I met Artie at the enlisted club in Coronado. He was in BUDS (Seal training) and was just a really nice guy; a decent young man whom I could tell had been “raised right” by his grandmother (he shared that fact). Artie made it through BUDS training and I felt that he was going to make a long and illustrious career with the US Navy. Although we were not actively engaged in any wars, Artie disappeared one month and we never saw him again. I eventually heard (unofficially) that he was killed in a special ops assignment in Central America.
Rich was one of the guys in my circle of friends. He was a sailor on the same ship as my boyfriend (eventual husband) and was like a brother to all of us in our ragtag group of sailors. Like many sailors, Rich had a motorcycle – a nice one, that he liked to drive way too fast. One night Rich and another friend were heading South on I-5 in San Diego county and Rich miscalculated the time he had before coming up on the flatbed truck in front of him. His motorcycle hit the back end of that truck and his body flew up against the cab. Rich was a good guy, a good sailor and way too young to die.
With the possible exception of Artie, none of these men died in battle. Like so many of the heroes coming home in flag-draped caskets from Iraq and Afghanistan, these men died before they had a chance to fully grow up; they died while on active duty, serving their country; a long way from home. Their families received the devastating news in a vacuum, and dealt with their loss privately and without much public awareness of the sacrifice their family made when they sent their sons to serve.
I once read that no one is really gone as long as someone remembers them. In addition to acknowledging the many who have died in battle, on this Memorial Day I will hold a space to remember these 4 young men who died long before their time, each of whom served their country honorably, regardless of the way that they died.
Originally posted on the author’s LinkedIn page