Officer remembers the fallen on Memorial Day

  • Published
  • By Maj. Mike Nachshen
  • Public Affairs Education with Industry Partner
Soon it will be Memorial Day, and I'll remember.

I'll remember Eric. I'll remember how even though I only met him two or three times, his wife was my deputy and I knew him through her eyes. I'll remember that every time she talked about the love of her life, her face would come alive and her sparkling eyes would light up the whole room. I'll remember that even though my wife and I couldn't make it to their wedding, we got the newlyweds a silver-serving spoon they had listed on their registry. I'll remember when I last saw him, Eric and his wife were holding hands, and they looked the way people do when they're madly in love with each other.

And because it will be Memorial Day, I'll remember. I'll remember hearing we lost a plane in Iraq. I'll remember how I figured the odds were pretty slim that it was someone I knew. I'll remember the sepia-toned West Texas landscape as we drove for what seemed like an eternity to the memorial service, 90 long miles away. And I'll remember the way the eyes of Eric's wife glistened with tears as she contemplated being a widow at 26 while walking down that long aisle dressed in black and all alone. 

And because it will be Memorial Day, I'll remember my friend Sarah. I'll remember how Sarah would stop by my desk every time she had business in my building and how her smile and laughter would burst into every nook and cranny and drop kick your rotten mood into the trash can. I'll remember how she would put funny pictures in my staff meeting slides when I stepped away from my desk for more than 30 seconds without locking my computer. And I'll remember Friday evenings at the officer's club, as we tried to solve world hunger and cure cancer while we washed down fried food with endless pitchers of frosty beverages.

And because it will be Memorial Day, I'll remember. I'll remember how excited Sarah was when she told me about her upcoming deployment ... and how as I looked at her, I recalled what it felt like to be a high-speed, low-drag young lieutenant headed overseas for the first time on what promised to be a giant adventure. I'll remember being deployed for Hurricane Katrina relief efforts, opening that e-mail from my boss back home, and reading the message which began "Mike, there is no easy way to tell you this ..." And I'll remember what the dirt felt like on my hands as I threw it on her coffin while her parents and brothers cried and tried to understand what strange law of physics could allow a small wooden box to contain Sarah's irrepressible energy.

And because it will be Memorial Day, I'll remember to make my way down to the local Veteran's cemetery and remember the lives that were and the lives that should have been. I'll remember Eric and Sarah had dreams and goals and aspirations. And while Eric and Sarah are surely heroes who died for their country, I'll remember them not as towering figures to be worshipped, but as people who laughed, loved and brought others happiness while trying to make the world a better place. And perhaps most importantly, I'll remember that they had people who loved them, and still miss them and think about them every day.

And I'll remember I'm on sacred ground and that each marker represents the crushed dream of a wife, a parent, a brother. I'll run my hand over the marble stone that marks some stranger's final resting place and remember that below my feet lies someone's Sarah, someone's Eric.

And because it will be Memorial Day, I'll remember my other brothers and sisters. I'll remember the Irish soccer fanatic we nicknamed Pikey, and his beautiful baby girl who will grow up never knowing her father. I'll remember Meagan, whose warmth and can-do attitude infected you from 6,000 miles away. I'll remember Ben, who lived three houses down from me and was always working in his yard. They are all heroes now. But they are all real people to me. Now they're gone. I'll never forget them.

And, because it will be Memorial Day, I will forget some things. I'll forget the killer deals on new cars, plasma-screen TVs and deluxe dining room sets. I'll forget the crass commercialism. I'll forget the things that don't matter in life.

Because it will be Memorial Day, I'll remember the important things instead. I'll remember to kiss my wife and tell her I love her. I'll remember the friends I lost and the friends I'll never get a chance to meet. I'll remember they had names and faces. I'll remember ... I'll remember.