Monday, May 26, 2008

Hoping you had a Blessed Memorial Day

Someone asked today a simple question. What does Memorial Day mean to you? I thought about it for a moment and responded as follows. To me Memorial Day is the day to realize that I won the "life lottery" by being lucky enough to have been born in the USA and others paid the price of the ticket. As I said in last year's post I usually have trouble writing anything I consider worthy on Memorial Day. This year I have not had the same problem. While I started this on Friday and am again not getting around to posting it until Monday it is for a different reason.

Unlike last year I can now say that I knew someone who died in a war in a US uniform. I will not say I knew him well, in fact I barely knew him. I must say I very much liked what I did know even before I knew he would die for my freedoms but I barely knew him none-the-less. I hope and pray that the following is a worthy tribute to him and his brothers and sisters well met. I will not use any names in case I fail. I barely knew the young man but he was clearly an extraordinary human being.

Last summer I was doing some business travel through Dallas and happened to walk upon a young soldier in uniform looking somewhat lost. I stopped and asked if I could help and he replied that he was just looking for some place to kill an hour or so before his flight out. "Come with me sir" was my immediate reply to which he looked puzzled so I added "we are going to the Admiral's Club which is by far the best place to be if you have to be stuck in this airport." I am still not sure if he was uncomfortable about my boldness in telling him to come with me or in my calling him "sir" when "he worked for a living" and I was old enough to be his father. I can't help myself in calling anyone in uniform "Sir" or "Mam" until they correct me with "Private" or "Sergeant" or whatever. They serve in my place with honor and are at least as deserving of the appropriate civil designation title as any civilian like me irrespective of their age or rank.

Anyway, apparently nobody had bothered to tell him that American Airlines allows military folks on travel orders to go into the Admiral's Club for free nor that even before this policy all you had to do was stand in uniform in the vicinity of the Club and somebody (like me) with a membership would come along and invite you in.

This all to leads up to how I had the pleasure of chatting with this Army Private for about 40 minutes in the relative quiet of the Admiral's Club. I told him to get whatever he wanted and he responded "I am only 19 so I can't drink". Since it's Memorial Day I will forgo my usual rant on how stupid that policy is and say instead that I replied: "Fine, soda is free but they have other non-alcoholic things and some entirely decent food, have whatever you like on me, it would be my pleasure". He seemed happy enough to sit and chat with me drinking his free soda and free peanuts from the bar.

The young private was 19, had a girlfriend with plans to marry her after his tour of duty and was hoping to have a career after the war as a paramedic. His MOS was a medic something or other (sorry I am a civilian) which he explained was essentially medic assistant and/or medic in training and that after a little more time in the field he would be a Sargent Army medic (this he explained with a large smile). It sounded to me like he was a medic, just not one who had earned the appropriately cool rank patch on his arm but I will leave that to those of you who know something about the military designation. He had spent about 6 months in Iraq and was headed back after a week-ish home for another 6-8. He graduated from high school with honors and immediately signed up because he felt the call to duty. His girlfriend and his parents were sad to see him go away but proud and supportive of his decision to enlist. He expected to be in Iraq between 12 and 14 months and then come home and get married when he initially left for war.

Before I left I handed him my business card and asked him to send me an email with his APO address so I could send he and his buddies a care package. Initially he seemed uncomfortable with this crazy old guy he had just met offering to send him stuff for free. I overcame this objection by pointing out that without people like him going off to war over the last two centuries I wouldn't have the opportunity to have a membership to a nice club like this. That seemed to work and he took my card and promised to send me an email with his APO address once he got "in country" and "settled in". I am not quite sure how one gets "settled in" in a war zone but that was what this young warrior said and I accepted it.

Several months went by and I did not hear from our Private. I had come to the conclusion that, like many others in uniform who I had made similar offers to, he would not be sending me an email with an address to get stuff to him "in country". Finally I got an email with a thanks for inviting him into the Admirals Club and my hospitality. I found this astonishing as he knew full well I hadn't spent a nickel on him other than a tip to the bartender but I simply replied with a request for what they would like. A couple of weeks later I got a reply that whatever I could send that would help to remind them of home would be great. He went on to explain how great the Army was taking care of him and how cool his buddies were and how, in an odd way, it was good to be back with his unit for the remainder of his tour.

I boxed up a bunch of books and ESPN's and gator aid packets and such as well as a hand made card with a note and promptly dropped it off at the Post Office in a flat rate box. The next day I sent him an email telling him that I had sent a package and to please let me know at some point on what date it had arrived to his unit so that I could gauge how long things took to transit the system. I received a response that he would let me know when the package arrived and how proud he was that not a single member of his unit had been so much as seriously injured on his tour in 10 months in Iraq and how high their spirits were. About 3 weeks later I sent him an email asking him if he had received it. A few weeks later I sent another email with no response, and then a third.

A few weeks after the third message I received a response to my email from the young hero's father. It was beyond touching. It brought me to tears. Our young private had received my package just a couple days before he died in an IED explosion. He had sent his father an email saying how astonished he was that a complete stranger sent he and his buddies a care package. His father thanked ME for MY KINDNESS. I found this overwhelming. I spent about $20 including shipping to let the young warriors fighting the fight that our government sent them to fight know that we loved and supported them and wished them well and this man, who had just lost his son, wants to thank ME for what I DID?

It gets worse/better. The man actually apologized to me for "taking so long to get back to me" because it "took him several weeks to get copies of his son's email messages in order to respond to all the people who were sending him well wishes". PLEASE! I began to cry. My wife came into my office and asked me what was wrong. It took me many minutes to get enough composure to read the email I had just received to her. She began to cry which started me up again.

Friends, we are blessed. We are blessed by heroes like this young private I met momentarily who do the right things for the right reasons. We are also blessed by those who can raise such warriors. We are blessed that they volunteer to possibly die young so that we may live to be free, old, fat, dumb and happy. And we are blessed whether we acknowledge it or not. Not only did this young man define America; his father, in a time when he would be totally excused by everyone from doing so, defined America. I very much wish I could have known he and his family better but I couldn't possibly be more proud of them and how they define our country.

On this and all Memorial Days, and each day of the rest of my natural life, I give thanks to the heroes that made our freedoms and liberties and economic possibilities possible and I proudly wear the title at home and abroad "I am an American".

God Bless America, God Bless Her Troops, and God Bless those who have sacrificed their lives, or a part of themselves by sending their loved ones off to battle never to see them again, for liberty and justice no matter what country they served for. But a special thanks to God for giving those of us blessed by "life's lottery" to be born in the USA for the many heroes He has blessed us with on this day that we set aside to honor them.