Monday, May 25, 2015

Reflections on Memorial Day

I should have stayed off of Facebook on Friday.  But I finished putting 5 Things on a Friday together when I was still about twenty minutes out from New York, and with that bit of time to kill, I toggled over, and there it was.  All of my friends were putting up pictures for Memorial Day, our fallen from my class or others from other classes.  I immediately flashed over and started thinking about my dad.  It's become a little easier in the last few years, but on Friday it hit me hard and left me in a sour mood for most of the rest of the day.

Me and my father, 1995 or '96.
Technically, my father is not one of our nation's war dead.  He survived Vietnam and whatever other crap he did when the Marine Corps sent him to Africa and to other places for God knows what.  Truth is, he loved all that crap.  But like a lot of veterans, he was unable to make the transition to civilian life.

Twenty-two veterans take their own lives in this country every day.  My father didn't give his life for his country, he gave his sanity.  He died of alcoholism.

I don't like thinking about it because the good man that he was, the man who taught me so much about how to be a man, died years before my father actually passed.  He died at fifty-nine, but his last ten years were a steady descent.  From rationality into madness.  It was hard to watch, and what made it worse is that he didn't want help.

He just... didn't want to do it anymore.

Anyway, I feel comfortable celebrating Dad's life on Memorial Day.  He was my father, and he loved being a Marine, and he was a huge part of my life, and I miss him.  We all have our private tragedies, and this is mine.

My class from West Point has fallen, too, of course.  I knew Hans Kurth a little, but we weren't close.  I didn't know Jimmy at all.  Those guys were still my brothers, but I have to admit that I feel extremely fortunate not to have lost anyone that was a real brother or sister to me, anyone who was like family.  Some of my friends have done a lot, but they all seem to have gotten home in one piece; they've successfully reconnected with their families and with the peacetime Army or with civilian life, which is an entirely tougher trick.  It's a blessing.  This past year has brought me back in touch with a whole collection of guys and gals that I absolutely love, and that's been pretty wonderful, too.  I got a note from a guy I used to swim with at the Academy thanking me for my help / guidance / example as he's been transitioning from the Army, and reading about his new job and his excitement to move forward has been the most gratifying thing I've done in weeks.  He's a good dude, he served when called, and then -- recently -- he got laid off.  He was understandably upset, not least because layoffs aren't supposed to be part of the deal when you're called back to service during wartime.  But he's over it now and moving forward.  That's what I like to see.

Kim Hampton in the cockpit at 4-7 Cav.
Of fallen soldiers from Iraq and Afghanistan, I was closest to Kimberly Hampton.  We served together in 4-7 Cav in Korea.  I was the Adjutant when she reported, and I remember in-briefing her as a new lieutenant like it was yesterday.  She was a cute, funny, friendly, wildly popular young officer in what was then the nation's most forwardy-deployed cavalry unit, just ten kilometers south of the DMZ.  We sat there and laughed for about an hour while we waited for the Squadron Commander to finish something, so he could welcome her to the unit.

Kim was assigned as the XO of the Aviation Maintenance Company, a made-up position because we were overstrength on LTs at the time.  But she made the most of it, and I never heard anything but good things about her work.  She eventually extended in Korea, led an actual aviation platoon, served in Afghanistan, and went to the 82nd Airborne.  She was killed in Fallujah, Iraq, in 2004 when her Kiowa was shot down.  My buddy Joe called and told me, and we both sat there and cried.

Kim was a great young officer.  She had a lot going on, and people liked her.  I liked her.  She was engaged when she died, and the whole thing makes me sadder than Hell.

I don't know what else to say.

Happy Memorial Day, folks.  Live it up out there.  Enjoy your freedom because it sure as shit didn't come free.

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