Friday, May 9, 2008

A Day So Long

May 9, 2008
There are no holidays for the American soldiers serving in Iraq. Memorial Day is a day like any other, in spite of the fact that every day, on average, at least one soldier will die while serving his or her country. In a sense, that makes every day Memorial Day in Iraq.
When a soldier dies in Iraq, a memorial service is held to commemorate his life. Recently, a service was held at Anaconda, a large base in Balad, for two soldiers from the 1st Squadron 32nd Cavalry Regiment who died when their vehicle, an MRAP (Mine-Resistant, Ambush-Protected), rolled over, off a narrow canal road and headfirst into the water. The soldiers were Lieutenant Timothy Cunningham and Private First Class John Bishop. LT Cunningham was twenty-six; PFC Bishop was twenty-two. Both were married. LT Cunningham also left behind a one year-old daughter, Abigail.
Close friends of LT Cunningham and PFC Bishop spoke at the memorial service. Soldiers are, naturally, trained to be tough. Both Sergeant Roberto Munoz and Specialist Jonathon Dautremont had to pause in their tributes to collect themselves, to wipe away their tears. There is something very heartbreaking about a soldier so struck with grief that speech is impossible.
Amidst the sea of camouflage, one civilian stood out in the crowd that had gathered to honor LT Cunningham and PFC Bishop. In his dark suit, with his carefully groomed hair and moustache, the mayor of Balad might have seemed out of place, but his attendance at the memorial service was a very meaningful gesture. Two worlds were brought together, worlds that usually experience their grief separately.
Life is short. We all know this, but soldiers and their families are reminded of it every day. At the same time, days can be very long. Any day in Iraq is a long day for a soldier who misses his family, but these days are even longer for the families at home, who can’t just pick up the phone and call Iraq. The days Samantha and Abigail Cunningham, and Diane Bishop, and the rest of their relatives, have to face now that Tim and John are gone will be the longest they have ever known.
Over four thousand soldiers have died in Iraq since the war began, which means over four thousand families have endured some very long days. Four thousand may not seem like a big number, but it is big enough if you are one of the people whose husband or wife, brother or sister, father or mother, son or daughter is one of the four thousand. Abigail is not the only one year-old who has lost her father to this war.
Many of us have the luxury of viewing Memorial Day as a day off from work, a day of sales and fun with our families. We are very lucky. Over the past five years a lot of young families have learned the true meaning of Memorial Day, but what about the rest of us?
After five months in Iraq, I have come home. I met a lot of great soldiers who made me feel welcome at bases up and down the Tigris, soldiers who were doing their best to get through the long days away from home. I think about them every day, and hope they make it through the remaining months of their deployment safely. This Memorial Day I will be having fun with my family, but I will also be remembering the families who are not so lucky.

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