The Greatest Casualty is to Be Forgotten

With Memorial Day right around the corner, all the sale flyers clogging my mail and in-boxes, everyone -me included- talking about holiday menus and summer fun, I thought this post might be in need of some dusting off. I originally penned this in November 2009 as an homage to my fellow sailors, those I’ve lost and as a reminder that Veteran’s day -like Memorial Day- is not about the sales or the three-day weekends. It isn’t about nabbing a great deal on a new sofa. We live in The Land of The Free… because of the brave. Enjoy your three-day weekend, grill up something tasty, hit a water park and break out those sandals.. BUT also remember to stop by a memorial, buy a poppy from the vets who set up in front of the big box store. Ask them about their story, let them tell it, listen and thank them. Remember that Memorial Day is about honoring the memory of those who gave all.
 

(I know this is a LONG one but who could shorten a tribute to American Heroes? NOT ME!)
 

Today is Veteran’s day and I always thought it was a bit awkward to say “Happy Veteran’s Day”. Not because I’m not happy to have served my country. I think it has something to do with knowing some of the hardships that come along with that service. I was a 19 year old kid when I left the familiar surroundings of my small town and boarded a plane for Navy basic training in Orlando, Florida. It was just after Thanksgiving 1990 and I couldn’t believe how cold it was in Florida, I thought this was supposed to be the sunshine state! I was scared out of my mind, lost and really regretting being the first person in my family to have joined the Navy.A few weeks into training our Company Commanders came into our compartment and removed all the drill weapons. They then announced that the Operation Desert Storm was underway. We were allowed one call home. With the sound of Bing Crosby singing “I’ll be home for Christmas” playing over the PA I called my parents. That was the first time it really hit me what it meant to be a member of the armed services.

Yep that’s me on the right all snuggled up to Fifle the mouse from An American tale. I’d go on to cry every time I heard the theme song “Somewhere out there” while serving a continent away from my family and friends. Okay I STILL cry when I hear it.  To my right is the best buddy any sailor could ask for Michelle Graf! 

I went on to become a Navy Airman and made it to 
my first duty station in Rota, Spain. Rota was a stop on the way to both Iraq and Somalia when I was there. Ships came through with Soldiers, Sailors, Marines and Air Force Airmen. I count myself privileged to have served, partied, jaw jacked, worked my butt off and mourned with many of them.

Among them all I was honored to serve under Admiral Jeremy Michael “Mike” Boorda. Admiral Boorda is to this day someone I admire beyond words. He worked his way up from the lowest of enlisted rank, Seaman, to go on and become an Admiral and Chief of Naval Operations. I was honored to have had a one-on-one conversation with him. When he reportedly took his own life a hole was ripped in my heart and memory. He was honest and honorable, a person who stood up for what he believed, championed the underdog and no matter what others may think they know, he was a true hero.

With so many currently serving and so many giving the ultimate sacrifice there are those who’s loss has faded in our collective memory. Yet they are heroes all the same and I have not forgotten them. 
Chief Petty Officer Richard Costelow, lost in the bombing of the USS Cole left behind wife Sharla, and three boys, Dillon then 13, Brady then 5, and Ethan 4 at the time. Read more about CPO Costelow and his legacy, or to just thank his family for their sacrifice in the name of the freedom we all enjoy visit their memorial website HERE

Also gone but never forgotten is Army Ranger, Sergeant James Casey Joyce who was among 18  service men lost in the ambush at Mogadishu, Somalia. In lieu of putting up the video of an American hero’s body being drug through the Somali soil, made infamous during Operation Restore Hope, I’ve chosen to share a quote from his father Retired Army Colonel Larry E. Joyce:

“For me, October 3 is a day of irony that will forever be burned in my memory. On that day in 1906 my father was born in dusty Segoville, Texas. And, on the same day in 1993, my son was killed on a dusty street in Mogadishu, Somalia. On this October 3, I’ll call my dad and wish him well on his 88th birthday. And at a ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery, I’ll observe the first anniversary of my family’s most tragic loss…. Today, they will remember the 44 members of the Armed Forces who died in Somalia during Operation Restore Hope” -Oct 3, 1994

Still they serve, with pride, with honor and with a dedication few can understand. From my own small Southern California town, 19 year old Marnie Corps LCPL Marcus Cherry, gave his life in Iraq. While looking into this young man’s life I found the website Iraq War Heroes.

On this site friends, family, fellow soldiers and even strangers leave comments about the lost. I was moved by this particular message left by SGT. Brian Telinda Jr

“LCPL. MARCUS CHERRY, MAN ITS BEEN SO LONG AND I STILL TRY TO GO BACK INTO TIME AND PULL YOU BACK, BUT YOU WERE SUCH A HARD CHARGER MAN! I STILL HAVE OUR CARD WE MADE FOR OUR RACK IN AR- RAMADI AND I STILL CANT GET THAT INCREDIBLE SMILE OUT OF MY HEAD MAN. I KNOW I WAS SENIOR TO YOU BUT I LOVED YOU LIKE MY BLOOD AND I’VE FOUND MY SELF THINKING ABOUT THE 6TH A LOT MAN,I JUST WISH YOU WOULD HAVE WAITED FOR ME. I WILL NEVER FORGET HOW GREAT OF A KID YOU WERE AND WISH WE COULD OF GOT MORE TIME WITH EACH OTHER TO HANG, TO LAUGH, TO SERVE THE CORPS. STILLL TO THIS DAY WHEN I TOLD YOU THAT YOU WERE THE BEST MARINE I’VE EVER MET NO ONE COMES CLOSE!!!! NOT ANYWHERE NEAR!!! TO YOUR MOM I NEVER HAD THE HONOR OF MEETING WITH YOU BUT I JUST WANTED TO SAY THANK YOU FOR GIVING LIFE TO SUCH A WONDERFUL INDIVIDUAL, MARCUS IS THE BEST KID I’VE EVER MET! I MISS YOU SO MUCH BRO AND GOING BACK TO RAMADI, SO IN A WAY WE WILL BE TOGETHER AGAIN CLEANING UP THE STREETS AND I WILL SEE YOU AGAIN SOMEDAY BROTHER! LOVE ALWAYS MAN, SGT. TELINDA 2/4 (2001-2004)”
I did a bit of sleuthing to try and find Sgt. Telinda, so that I could thank him for his service this Veteran’s day. I couldn’t find him but what I did find were three more messages he’d left for fellow fallen Marines lost in Iraq; LCPL Deshon E. Otey, LCPL Eric A. Ayon and LCPL Pedro Contreras.

Each of these men, and hundreds of women who have been lost, had a mom. A mom like me, or you or your mom. A mother who will never again get to watch her child sleep, or tell them to pick their filthy socks up off the family room floor! Some may have left behind a husband or a wife, maybe even babies of their own. On this day we celebrate the sacrifice of those who have and are currently serving, there are loved ones sitting by the phone waiting for a call from them. There are children who will go to sleep tonight missing their moms or dads. In hospitals and recovery centers all over the country there are wounded heroes trying to learn to walk again after having lost a limb. There are 13 families still feeling the raw emotion of having lost a loved one to the bullets of a fellow soldier. Each and every one of us who enjoys the privilege of perusing our own happiness owes a debt of gratitude to our Veterans.

Some of my favorite work for Veterans and their families is done by these organizations:

The Wounded Warrior Project
The American Widow Project
The USO
Homeless Veterans
The Navy Marnie Corps Relief Society


Remember you don’t have to support war to support a Veteran!

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