Many Americans are confused by Veterans Day and Memorial Day. I will admit in my younger days, I was confused as well. I'll admit before 9-11, Memorial Day was another day off from school or a reason to have a long weekend. I always participated in Memorial Day events, but I never really understood them until OIF and OEF entered my life.
Since Chaz has been injured, we have turned down many events that were on Memorial Day weekend where they wanted to honor Chaz's service. Chaz and I will not allow Chaz to be honored on this weekend. Chaz has Armed Forces Day, Veterans Day and everyday to be celebrated. Today is the day to remember those who served so valiantly, yet are no longer with us.
This is a picture of the bottom of my computer monitor. I spend a lot of time at my desk. Sometimes I like sitting here because of what I can get accomplished. Sometimes I get so frustrated that I have to walk away. I put these bracelets here as a daily reminder of how blessed I am to be here. I am reminded that I am blessed to be an American. And I am reminded that I am blessed to still have my soldier with me. I have these bracelets here to remind me of the sacrifices made by others so I can continue to enjoy my life. I have these here to remind me that I might be having a bad day, but it could always be worse.
We lost SFC McSwain June 8, 2006. We lost SGT McConnell March 18, 2013. In between these two Heroes, we have lost an additional 30 plus Heroes. I stopped counting in 2006. Yes it was in that one year we lost over 30 friends to OIF. Now we've lost friends to OIF, OEF, training accidents and invisible injuries. You look at the numbers and see statistics, I see faces and families. I want to take a second to reflect on two very personal losses. Mac was our first and I can only pray Derek is our last.
When I learned about Mac, I was shattered to my core. I was the first one of my Army friends to lose someone to combat. This was all new territory and I had to figure out the way all alone. The worst part of it was Chaz was still in Iraq and I had no idea if he knew and if he was ok. Chaz and Mac came to Ft Campbell together. They deployed to Kosovo together. They left Campbell together and returned to Campbell together. Mac's wife and I were not the closest of friends but we did have a few great moments together as our hubbies bonded during their service. I just didn't feel right invading her space upon hearing about Mac's passing. I just went to the memorial service instead. I could not imagine what she was going through and I wanted to be respectful of her privacy.
I'll never forget Mac's memorial. I sat with a friend just a few rows behind Mac's wife. When she put their new baby up on her shoulder and I went into the ugly cry. You know, the cannot control yourself, snot pouring out of your nose, sounds like you might be having an asthma attack cry. Their baby was just two months younger that our Ryann. Mac was just a few miles from Chaz when Mac was killed. So many thoughts ran through my head. Mac's service was the first time I had to deal with the Westboro people. That entire day was just horrible and I mean horrible. When Chaz called me a few days after Mac's service we had the one and only "during deployment" phone call that involved tears. I am a tough chick, but just hearing Chaz's voice after that service sent me into tears. Those tears were tears of reality. I realized that when you choose to marry a soldier you have to accept the horrible dose of reality that occasionally comes with it. That was a hard pill to swallow.
Fast forward through a few years and I realize we've lost so many. Chaz has told me more things about war then I ever wanted to know. I know too many stories of what happened to so many of his friends. I can see their faces and I have seen the families that are left behind.
That brings me to Derek. He literally stole my heart one day. He was such an amazing guy and he fought so hard. The day after Chaz's surgery, I get a call in the Starbucks drive thru that sent me into shaking. Let me assure you, I freaked the Starbucks people out with my shaky hands. The tears came when I got to Chaz's hospital room. I'll never understand how he could survive 2 IEDs, fight for 20 months and then his body just stop. It just doesn't make any sense.
Derek's mom entered my life thanks to facebook friends who wanted us to help them on this journey. I have so many great memories of Derek and those who love him. Derek stole my heart the day he asked us to be there when he stood up for the first time. I'll never forget him saying to me before that day, "You have to be there, you're like family now." What a great day that was and we were so blessed to be a part of it. I am so thankful for all the great stories I can tell people about Derek.
We didn't get to make it to Derek's memorial or service. Sadly Chaz was fighting another battle with bacteria. Not being there truly broke my heart. I was able to see Siobhan just after Derek's passing. But I wanted to be there that day to hug Siobhan and Krystina. I know they know we could not have gone with everything going on with Chaz. Knowing that they understand has never made it easier on me. I think about Derek all the time. When Ryann smiles it makes me think of her and Derek and them being silly about their mutual missing teeth. I think about Derek and how Chaz and Derek once decided if I took my tater tot casserole to war, I could end the whole thing. I think about Derek telling me about how excited he was about retirement and getting married and moving on with his life.
Chaz and I have lost Heroes to so many different circumstances. We've lost them to
IEDs, snipers, training accidents and to me what is the most painful, the invisible
injuries. No matter how we lose them, the loss never gets any easier. The only part that makes the loss any easier is seeing a glimpse of them every now and again in those who hold their memories so dear. I am so honored that I have memories of so many Heroes. I can only pray they are smiling down upon me today and I pray I am making them proud.
Today please take a moment to reflect on this day and it's true meaning. Think of our first and last losses, Mac and Derek. Also think of the thousands of other service members who have served, but are not with us today. Think about their loved ones who are the keepers of the Heroes. Please give thanks for the loved ones who not only keep the Heroes' memories alive but also for their willingness to share those memories with all of us. Please just take a minute to treasure the memories of Memorial Day.