I have to admit that I’ve spent many a Memorial Day, toes in sand, beer in hand, completely unaware of what it was I was celebrating.
The only soldier I had ever “sort of” known who’d been killed in combat was my Gma’s ex-fiance, Harry, whom she claimed, “Got his head blown off in the war,” for which I was kinda grateful because otherwise I would have never been born.
I grew up in a family of Navy men and have always had the utmost respect for those who serve/d. So much so, that when I graduated college I debated joining myself. My oldest brother, who has been in the military since he was seventeen, a veteran of Desert Storm, talked me out of it.
It wasn’t until a couple years ago though, when our family lost a beautiful young man did I come to know the real sacrifice, the true meaning of Memorial Day. Unfortunately, you just don’t get it until it hits that close to home.
Lil’ Gene was twenty-one, on his second tour in Afghanistan–just two weeks from his return home–when he was killed.
As cousins, we saw each other every holiday and summer crab feast and cookout. He was only seven when I took off for college, but we’d catch up at intermittent holidays, where I’d marvel at how big he’d gotten, spotting glimpses of the man he was becoming.
Through the family grapevine I kept loose tabs on him and all the cousins as we went our separate ways. I knew that he had joined the Marines and got word when he was headed overseas.
I was living in Hong Kong when I got the call.
First, I thought about his youth. His mom. His bravery. How unfair it is. He had the best smile.
I immediately wished I’d spent more time with him and had really gotten to know the man everyone spoke so highly of. How’d I miss all those beach trips? I went through all the pictures.
Then I was filled with gratitude for his ultimate sacrifice. I couldn’t have been more proud of a man who died defending what he loved so much. A true American hero.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t make it home for the funeral. Through several phone calls and emails though I learned that he was given a proper pomp and circumstance.
He is buried in Arlington among all the other brave soldiers who fought for our freedom.
What an honor to call such a badass fallen hero “cuz.”
I leave you with this: Since the beers are gone and the coals have cooled, let’s take a moment to remember those who gave it all. If only we could all be so brave in our own pursuit of purpose.