Thursday, May 28, 2009

Memorial Day redux

This is an older post but with Memorial Day just past, I thought it appropriate to post it again:

By SGT Mark M.

I consider myself lucky. Lucky to be alive. And
that's it. That's what it boils down to.

If those mortar rounds had landed a little closer. Had those bullets
been aimed just a little bit lower. Had those three
IED kill teams got me instead of me them. In the nearly
16 months I served in Iraq, my unit of about 700 men
lost 13. We came home with 13 fewer men - brothers - than
we had left with. About three times as many wounded. Though I
didn't know any of them personally, it was hard just
the same.

Memorial services. God I hate them. A paratrooper.
A battle hardened veteran is supposed to be almost
numb and without emotion. I think back to standing
there in the desert in a mass battalion formation
surrounded by barbed wire and 10-foot tall concrete
blast walls at one of those damn services.

Always a light desert breeze and fiery golden sunset as a back
drop when we honored our fallen brothers. Every man
there quietly swallows hard pushes those emotions deep
deep inside. Tear ducts screaming for permission to
shed tears, teeth bite down hard and from the outside
little shows the battle waging inside.

It's the end where most lose it. Roll call. A senior NCO begins
calling names. One after the other: “HERE FIRST
SERGEANT!. . . HERE FIRST SERGEANT!’’ until the name
of the deceased is reached. Nothing but silence as
they attempt to call his name three times.

Two days ago was a nice day here. Breezy and cool, great
blue sky overhead with a brilliant sun to warm the
skin. I walked the short distance to my battalion
headquarters running a errand for a platoon sergeant
in my company. Walking inside, by happenstance, I ran
into an old battle buddy. I'd known him from the
beginning of my Army career. Him, me and three other
guys had all gone through basic together, airborne
school and came here to Bragg. Medina, Blaske, Coats,
and Baez, good friends eventually separated by the war.

“What's up man”

“S'up Middlebrook?

“Oh you know man, livin' the dream.”

Smiling and continuing on without stopping. Truth is, I didn't really
want to talk to him all that much. I'd only made it five steps past him...

“Hey man, listen.”

“What's up?” Turning to face him.

“Hey, sorry to be the one to tell you dude. You know
those couple guys that got killed in 1/73 (a cavalry
battalion in my brigade) the other day?”

“Yeah. . .”

“One of them, man, was Baez.” Hit me like a punch to
the chest.

“What?”

“Yeah man, Baez is dead.”

I wasn't sure how to react. I was in shock and didn't truly believe it. Safe and
sound in the United States, a thousand of miles from that damn desert, and the war ripped me right back. Hell, I may as well be still in Iraq because that unmistakable feeling took hold of my soul.

Spc. Miguel A. Baez was killed in action in Balad, Iraq by an improvised explosive device as he entered a house. He was set to come home to his wife and four children next month. He died on his last mission outside the wire.

An all around great guy. Hell of a sense of humor. After all the things the Army put us
through, I never heard him utter a word in anger. He was a very devoted family man and if you asked him about his kids his eyes would light up and a smile always followed.

How did I survive and Baez not? He had so much more to live for. If I could change places, I would without hesitation. But that is the way it seems to be. Those lost are always most missed.

I will never forget him. My thoughts and prayers are with his family. His memory will always occupy a place in my heart.

3 comments:

Stacy said...

What a fine young soldier you and your wife have raised. Please thank him for me.

Love Letters to an American Soldier said...

Thank you for sharing, Dad!! You have truly done a great thing in sharing your own story through the blog world and I know more than just me appreciate your writing and patriotism.

Mark: I am always in awe of your abilities to bring your real stories to life. You truly have a gift for writing. Maybe some day, now that you're getting so close to being done serving, you might think about compiling these posts into a book and publishing them. I truly feel that people need to hear about Iraq (and other Military involvements) from those who experience the situation first-hand. And with your awesome talent, I know people would listen & read.
Thanks for everything you've done and my prayers are with you in everything you've had to endure. And maybe you felt that it should have been you instead, but I say, no way- there is a reason you are here and I hope you know that. More of us are glad thankful for that, and your family- especially.

~Holly

Airborne dad said...

Thanks, Stacy. He's a great young man....

Holly,

I passed on your compliments to Mark and it prompted him to write another entry. I will post it as soon as I get back to the house (I'm in Tallahassee for a couple of days.)