On Memorial Day in 1945, Army General Lucian Truscott took to the podium at the Rome Sicily Cemetery to pay homage to this solemn day on the heels of the greatest war the world had ever seen. But rather than the address the dignitaries aligned with much fanfare, he turned and began to the fallen. Many of whom, Truscott himself led into combat. He told his fallen men that if he were ever to run into a man, particularly an old man, who spoke of the glory of falling in combat that he would set him straight. He said, “he would not speak of the glorious dead because he didn’t see much glory in getting killed if you were in your late teens and early twenties. Today on Memorial Day as we honor the fallen, I’d like to take my unique place in the mediocrity of writing to give homage to a unique group of fallen. Namely, those who died in the course of the military duties without so much as an enemy shot being fired. Just yesterday at a celebration, a US Navy skydiver was killed over New Jersey. Is today not for him as well? Military service is by its nature dangerous and if a World War 2 General who had seen more than his fair share of the dead can scoff at the glorious nature of death then surely we can ensure the non-combat fallen receive their toast tonight. If you know of such a warrior feel free to link it up in the comments and give them their due.
The Danger of Military Service
At School of Infantry West in Camp Pendleton, California my squad of boots gathered together to do our first MOUT life fire house. Bursting through the door with poor skill, perhaps due to the motto woods impeding our walking, one fellow PFC fell down with finger where it should not have been. Shots burst into the wood, the SOI Sergeant instructing us called for us to cease and the dude literally sat down white faced. He couldn’t even speak to us for a good full two minutes. No yelling, he just sat there.
Now the details escape me a bit after 20 years and I can’t remember whether he was somehow in danger of those stray bullets or he just saw his whole career flash before his eyes with the death of one of us. But two decades later I realize that people die in the military all the time and they don’t have to so much as sniff combat. Whether it’s a Marine popping his grape up too high at the 400 series ranges in 29 Palms or just a wench breaking on a Motor T Marine, to serve in the military is to risk it. Memorial Day is for them too. The fellow late teens early 20 warrior for whom General Truscott would not allow you to speak of the glorious dead.
Thanks for Your Service
It has always struck me as odd when people thank me for my service either on Memorial Day, which they shouldn’t, or on Veterans Day. And it wasn’t until recently that I discovered I had an instant canned response that I had developed over the past 20 years. They thank me and I pretty much say, “I appreciate it. It was a good time.” And that’s the truth. I wasn’t one of those veterans who supposedly “at one point wrote a blank check for the amount up to and including my life.” I just thought Dress Blues would really help me get a girlfriend and I always wanted to kill a fire dragon. Win-win in my book.
Now, I also have to confess that throughout my entire time in the Marines and in fact my deployment to Iraq I never gave a second thought to dying. Perhaps it was because I didn’t have a family at the time and my parents could have really used the SGLI money, but I never thought of dying over the 6 years enlistment. I know I risked it and I do have a Combat Action Ribbon. But honestly, during the one major firefight I was in the pucker factor was way too high to even give it a passing thought as the bullets flew.
But I image the young Navy Seabee I saw blow himself up while building and air conditioned hut didn’t either. The closest enemy had to be miles outside the wire and yet, when Navy Seabee Doyle Bollinger III came across some un-exploded ordinance this day became for him as well. It’s for the Navy skydiver who passed yesterday, the pilots taking to the skies over America in worn down planes on training missions, and for all who fell while wearing the uniform. If it is not glorious for a late teen or early 20’s to die, then that sentiment is universal regardless of the cause.
Toast them all with what time remains today. The accidental, the tragic, and even the stupid reasons that make someone part of this hallowed group. If you are their family or friends, you need not feel any less for their sake today. People die in military service all the time and I’ll take General Truscott’s words at heart when he says it is no more glorious if you have a CAR. A toast to all the fallen today and again, if you are a brother or sister to one of the non-combat fallen I’ll offer this post up as a specific toast to them.
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