This Memorial Day I want to share a little bit about why it is so personal, so important to me that we take time to acknowledge those who have served, those who have lost, those who have sacrificed. My brother took care of those around him and it is my honor to be able to offer what I can to take care of those around me. This Memorial Day is dedicated to those men and women that put themselves in the same position that my brother put himself in, those men and women who have served in the United States Armed Forces.
My Brother’s Brothers
April 23rd, 2008
It was the day before my birthday. I was at work when a strange call from my mother came in, I was unable to answer, but the voicemail she left was nothing but incoherent mumbling and sobbing. Immediately I felt this warm sensation crawl into my head as panic began to set in. Something was wrong, it was obvious. After attempting to call her back a couple of times with no success, I told my supervisor that I had to go check on her. Once in the car, I hit the highway and my foot hit the gas. The phone rang, it was my father, who was a few states away for work.
“Matt, where are you?”
“I’m on my way to mom, she left a weird voicemail.”
“Well…It’s your brother…” there was a long, very audible pause as he caught his breath “he’s been killed in combat.”
His voice was shaky, but clear and concise. I’ll never forget those words or the way he said them, and even as I type them now they still draw blood. I had 2 brothers in Iraq at the time, both in the Army, both in combat roles. My dad proceeded to tell me it was R.C., the oldest of the 3 of us. He was 7 years older than me. R.C. was one of those individuals that excelled at everything he did. He was a hero when he played football or wrestled at Glendale high school, he was a hero while serving in the United States Army, and he was a hero to his family, friends, and the neighborhood kids that would come over for pick-up sports games. He was as charismatic as he was talented, and despite all his accolades he always remained humble, and I always thought he was invincible.
I finally pulled up to the house, ahead of me in the driveway was my mother, the woman who has raised me, the woman who was always strong when I was weak, my safe place, my rock, and she was a wreck, pacing back and forth across the drive, throwing her arms in the air, crying hysterically, repeating “NO, NO, NO” over and over. When she saw me pull up, she dropped to her knees. She crumbled. I picked her up and held her, her body felt lifeless, not a single muscle attempting to support her. Her sobs echoed into my soul, and I stood there, mother in my arms, quivering. There were no thoughts passing through my mind at this moment, just complete stillness.
It didn’t really hit me, the whole thing, it didn’t really register until we were sitting in front of the urn during the funeral. The first volley of the 21-gun salute rang out, the sound of igniting gunpowder filled my ears, and THAT is the moment the whole picture became clear. The explosion from those rifles crafted in my mind the re-enactment of the scene, shattered glass flying, a man dropping to his knees and then further to the floor. I know from the story told by his lieutenant that he didn’t feel any pain, or at least I believe that without question, because what’s the point of knowing otherwise. When asked if he’d been shot, he just said “I don’t know sir”. When the medic got there, he was pretty much gone. The bullet had entered his armpit, smashed into his spine, and sent fragments of bone into his heart and lungs, his pupils were blown, and his gaze was a lot further than the confines of that small shop. It was his 3rd tour since the Iraq war started, and it was his last.
10 years later, I finally met the soldiers my brother served with. They came from all over the US to hold a memorial for him, and a reunion with each other. I learned who he was to them, the leader he was, the example he was, and I was able to tell them who he was to me. I realized that night that my brother had another family, besides the wife and 3 children he left behind, besides my mother, father, and little brother. My brother had many more brothers, men that put their lives on hold, just to reunite and come to the center of the country and pay their respects.
I can’t say that any of us are the same after losing him. I can’t say that it matters. I still relive it sometimes, my dad’s words, my mother’s hysteria, the first volley of the 21-gun salute, seeing grown men break down into a sobbing mess while placing their hands on his tombstone. Those memories are the ones that will bring me to tears, and if they can do that to me, I can’t imagine how painful and traumatic the memories are that the soldiers who were over there carry with them. Regardless of what you believe about war, or America’s involvement in war, the fact doesn’t change that these men joined knowing that they may never come back to their families, that they may never hold their babies again, or smell their wives’ perfume. I’ll never forget that feeling I experienced when I hung out with those soldiers at the reunion, we sat around that fire drinking and telling stories of R.C. The stories we shared had a lot of similarities, and when they told theirs, they did it with the same energy and reverence as when I told mine. It was this that led me to the conclusion that the brothers of my brother, are my brothers.