When five fireman died in a blaze in New York City in 1908, Chief Ed Croker had this to say at their funeral:
“Firemen are going to get killed. When they join the department they face that fact. When a man becomes a fireman, his greatest act of bravery has been accomplished. What he does after that is all in the line of work.”
Just like firemen, the men and women of our military accomplish their greatest act of bravery when they sign on the dotted line, writing a check made payable to the United States Government “up to and including my life.” In the memo line is written, “In Defense of our Great Nation.”
I wrote my check to the United States Government 6 years ago this past Friday, on May 28th, 2004 at the Military Entrance and Processing Station (MEPS) on University Avenue in Des Moines, Iowa. I remember the fear and anxiety I had simply signing the papers. The contract had been drawn up, the benefits were all in order: I was to receive the Montgomery G.I. Bill and would spend the next 6 years in service with the 194th Infantry Detachment (Long Range Surveillance) (Airborne) Unit of the Iowa National Guard.
In fact, I had gotten cold feet after arriving at MEPS, where I found out I was going to be a machine gunner in a different unit. I balked. They called my recruiter on the phone and he reminded me of why I was there: Loyalty, Duty, Respect, Selfless Service, Honor, Integrity, Personal Courage (a little Army acronym I would come to know as “LDRSHIP”).
I was annoyed with him. I wasn’t quite sure I wanted to join yet. What about law school? Was I giving away my chance to attend law school at Drake? I had already been accepted.
They made a couple phone calls and then asked me “Do you want to jump out of airplanes?” I said “sure” and signed the papers. I was headed to the U.S. Army Infantry School that November and upon graduation would attend the U.S. Army Airborne School, where I would jump out of an airplane 5 times in the course of 1 week.
I was scared out of my mind when I drove back to Iowa City after signing my contract that afternoon. My uncle and aunt were having a Memorial Day Party that very day, their son Tyler having joined the Iowa National Guard only a week before me. I remember the anxiety I had telling everyone that I had joined. I was afraid. What if I didn’t make it back from war? How hard was Basic Training going to be? Would I be too scared to jump out of an airplane?
It is now 6 years later and I am staring down the barrel of my first deployment. This one to Afghanistan, where surely we will see combat. My cousin Tyler is now an Infantryman and will be joining me this time around, his second deployment to the middle east. I have jumped out of an airplane or helicopter in service to our nation over 20 times now, and every time I was absolutely terrified up until that moment that I saw a fully inflated parachute gleaming against the backdrop of a beautiful blue sky.
The truth is, this deployment will not be easy. Men will most likely die. I am prepared for that fact. Last week, I spent nearly an afternoon reading through our Casualty Affairs handbook, wrapping my head around my duties as a Platoon Leader in the event that one of my men would perish. I pray to God I never have to pull it out again.
But this weekend we recognize those who were not so fortunate. We remember their service. We remember that they answered their nation’s call during a time of need. When others questioned why one would serve at all (afterall, we were told Iraq was “immoral”), they stood up and said, “I don’t care where I go. If my nation calls, here I am. Send me.”
As President Lincoln said, “they gave the last full measure of devotion” in service to their fellow countrymen. They were brave. Heroic. Since last year’s Memorial Day service, four Iowans have died in service to their nation:
– Captain Daniel Whitten (Grimes)
– Sergeant Major Keith Laborde (Reinbeck)
– Lance Corporal Joshua Davis (Perry)
– Staff Sergeant Jack Martin (Maquoketa)
General Patton once said “It is foolish and wrong to mourn the men who died. Rather we should thank God that such men lived.”
Please take a moment to thank God for them.
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