Memorial Day

John Beale was one of the first guys I met when I got to my unit. He quickly took me under his wing and showed me the ropes. He made it easy for me to settle in, because he seemed to be well liked by just about everybody, which is impressive in the Army. John loved Peanut M&Ms and in fact, I have a great picture of him just opening some up with a “what’s up” look on his face. Of course as time goes by, soldiers get shifted around. Unit transfers and promotions keep folks just close enough to see each other from time to time, but not daily. And so it was for me and John. I considered him a friend, though we only got to see each other from time to time. That changed when we got to Afghanistan. We arrived to Camp Phoenix weary eyed and tired from the flight, the time change, and lugging all our gear at the new altitude. I tossed my gear on my bunk and looked up. John was there on the bunk next to me; he looked up and I was greeted with the beloved phrase “what’s up doc?” See I was a medic, and I got that phrase a lot. With a smile and a handshake, we helped each other get settled in for a few days before we found out our assignments. One night, as soldiers started getting pulled for missions, John was obviously somber. He said words that brings tears to my eyes even now as I write this. He said doc, “I don’t think I’m gonna make it through this one.” Now all soldiers have this sentiment I think; I know I did. It is just one of those things that goes through your head. I tried to pep him up and slap him on the back with the encouragement we all provide each other. I am sure I used some colorful “army language” in our discussion. Of course he smiled and shrugged it off. We all do. After all the job has to get done, no matter how we feel about it. The day came for me and John to split. We were both going to Kapisa, but he was in a different valley than I was. A few weeks went by and I got the news. It was June 4th, 2009. John’s truck had been hit by an IED. I was only 15 minutes away and could do nothing about it. My best friend was supposed to be on that mission, but Major Kevin Jenerette told him to stay back, take a shower, and get some hot chow. Those were luxury items down in the valley. Nobody survived the blast. Major J didn’t even have to be in that valley. He was our regimental executive officer, but he insisted on being there. The rest of our chain of command hardly ever came out. Major J defined leadership by his words and actions, even up to the end. He could have stayed back for some chow, but he insisted one of his “joes” get the chance. I didn’t know Jeffrey Jordon. I think he was 21 when he died. John was up in the gunner’s turret. The IED ripped through the HMMWV (Humvee) right below where he was standing. I could see it in my Captain’s eyes when he told us. The few of us who knew Maj. J or John couldn’t contain our emotions. Fear, grief, sadness, and anger raged through my veins…still does. When we left the wire, we went seeking revenge. It doesn’t matter what happened next really, my friend was gone, his wife widowed, and his children would now grow up without a dad. He was out there just doing his job. Two weeks before that another IED ripped through a HMMWV. Another one of my friends lost his leg. That should have been me on that truck. Because of rank and the ease of getting resupplied, we switched teams so that I could be the one to argue with the higher ups. I was trying to make his deployment easier. Guilt will never leave my heart. In that same blast, another guy I knew broke his back. He was set to retire after that deployment. He has a made a full recovery. Also, a young man I didn’t know, but got to know well, received a head wound. I did some wound care for him early on and he returned to duty. You see, Memorial Day is not a day for hot dogs and lakes for me. I’m not saying it shouldn’t be that for you, but as the divide between soldier and civilian grows, hearing stories like this will bring us back together. We live in a world where our nation is still at war, yet we get upset when our coffee takes to long. We complain about the heat or the cold, while .4% of our population is serving in our military today. While they are not first class citizens, they are important. They need their stories herd. I am a veteran, but this weekend is not for me. Please don’t thank me for my service. Listen to stories about my friends who this day is for; SFC John Beale, MAJ Kevin Jenerette, SGT Jeff Jordan, and others like them that didn’t come home. I miss my friend John, and I think of him often. I see his family on Facebook and chat through there. His daughter just graduated from high school. He loved Peanut M&Ms.

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