Monday, May 28

Thank you for your service.

I've been wanting to share several related thoughts for the past few months, and it only seems fitting to put them all together in one post in honor of Memorial Day.

Thank you.
I've always had great respect and admiration for the men and women who choose to serve in America's armed forces.  Fourth of July is my favorite holiday and patriotic music and feelings have always made me tear up.  Knowing Z not only deepened that respect and admiration, but added to it a new level of understanding of the sacrifices - physical, emotional, mental and spiritual - that these individuals make in the name of the flag they wear on their uniform.  To all those who have served and continue to serve and will serve: Thank you.

I don't pretend to know exactly how military significant others feel - the husbands and wives, the sons and daughters, the fathers and mothers, the brothers and sisters, the fiancees and boyfriends/girlfriends, the extended family members and best friends - but I do think knowing Z gave a me a small and brief glimpse into that world of worry and pain, of intense sorrow and overwhelming joy.  To all those who send their loved ones to boot camp and trainings, who wait patiently and prayerfully for their warrior to return home after a 10-month deployment, who suffer the pain of losing their loved one to an enemy bullet or an IED, who soldier on after their whole world has come crashing down: Thank you.

The Few. The Proud.
Even before meeting Z, I always liked the Marines.  The reasons probably had something to do with a certain NCIS agent named Leroy Jethro Gibbs, but whatever.  I've always thought the Marines are pretty cool.  Or, as Z would say, "they are BA" (thanks to him, that phrase is forever ingrained in my vocabulary).  But now I know why I love the Marines.  And the reason is because they really are BA.  He told me about his trainings.  He told me about his deployments.  He told me about the especially difficult days.  He told me about the ridiculous things he and his buddies did to pass the time.  The thought that always came to mind when Z would tell me these stories: "Why are you running towards the bullets?  Why aren't you running away from the people shooting at you?"  But that's not what they do, certainly not what a Marine Scout Sniper does.  They run towards the fight.  And I love them (him) for that.

Unapologetically American
Several years ago, mother gave me a copy of Lone Survivor by Marcus Luttrell.  I had been meaning to read it, but never got around to actually picking it up and turning the pages.  In our many conversations, Z told me that it was one of his favorite books and Marcus was one of his personal heroes, a hero he had had the opportunity to meet once.  I finally started reading it last fall, but didn't get very far into it when school and life took over all of my free time.  After Z's passing, I felt I needed to finally finish this book that meant so much to him.

From the very first few pages, I didn't think I would be able to make it all the way through to the end.  But I continued reading, even through my tears and sobs.  Everything Marcus describes - the intense training to become a Navy SEAL, the mission preparation, the loss of his team in the mountain wilderness of Afghanistan - it all hit so close to my heart.  At times it felt like I was reliving that Sunday morning all over again.  When I finally turned the last page, my heart was so heavy with humility and gratitude for men and women like Marcus - men like Z - who sacrifice everything they have to fight for and defend this country.

One of the things that I love most about Lone Survivor is how blunt Marcus is about what he has done.  He is a highly-trained professional - a Navy SEAL - and will not apologize for killing the enemy who wanted to kill him.  He loves his God, he loves his country, he loves his brothers-in-arms, and he loves his home state of Texas.  He is unapologetically American.  And I honor and respect him for that.

A couple of weeks ago I had the opportunity to attend a book signing for Marcus' new book Service.  I was so glad to be able to shake his hand and thank him for his service to this country.  On my flights this weekend to and from Portland, I started reading about his experiences in urban warfare in the Iraqi hellhole that is the city of Ramadi.  Again, everything he describes hits close to the heart.  I can hear Z's voice as I read, telling me about all of his experiences in country, on the base and outside the wire.

Marucs Luttrell is a true American hero, as are all who serve and sacrifice.

Damn Few
When I first saw the trailer for Act of Valor at the end of last year, my first thought was, "This is a Z movie - he will love this."  When I watched the trailer again after everything happened, I felt this compulsive need to see the movie - I needed to see it for him and for me.  So one Saturday afternoon, I went to the theater by myself, armed with Peanut M&Ms and tissues.  By Hollywood standards it is not the best military film ever made, but I thought it was brilliant.  It makes you proud to be an American.  It makes you proud of the SEALs - and all branches of the military, although I'm partial to the Marines - for all the planning and precision that goes into executing a successful operation.  The film opens and ends with a poem from Tecumseh that I absolutely love:

So live your life that the fear of death can never enter your heart. Trouble no one about their religion; respect others in their view, and demand that they respect yours. Love your life, perfect your life, beautify all things in your life. Seek to make your life long and its purpose in the service of your people. Prepare a noble death song for the day when you go over the great divide. 

Always give a word or a sign of salute when meeting or passing a friend, even a stranger, when in a lonely place. Show respect to all people and grovel to none. 

When you arise in the morning give thanks for the food and for the joy of living. If you see no reason for giving thanks, the fault lies only in yourself. Abuse no one and no thing, for abuse turns the wise ones to fools and robs the spirit of its vision. 

When it comes your time to die, be not like those whose hearts are filled with the fear of death, so that when their time comes they weep and pray for a little more time to live their lives over again in a different way. Sing your death song and die like a hero going home. 

And yes, I know that after picking the movie apart for inaccuracies or making jokes at the expense of the SEALs, Z would have loved this movie.

Giving Back
For the past few months I've been wanting to do something - anything - to show my appreciation for the members of the military.  But anything I could do doesn't really seem to compare to what these men and women have done for me.  But I guess something is better than nothing.  These are a few charitable organizations that I have found to be truly inspiring, ones that I would be glad to support for the work they do in honoring our veterans:

Why They Fight
A few months ago I was reading in The Book of Mormon, in the Book of Alma, Chapter 53.  This chapter describes a group of people known as "the people of Ammon," an ancient people who lived before the time of Christ on what is now known as the American continents.  After being converted to the gospel and becoming peaceful followers of Christ, these people made a covenant to never again take up their weapons of war against their fellow man.  Several years after they made their oath, the people of Ammon and other followers of Christ, known as the Nephites, were coming under attack by their enemies.

"But it came to pass that when [the people of Ammon] saw the danger, and the many afflictions and tribulations which the Nephites bore for them, they were moved with compassion and were desirous to take up arms in the defence of their country.

But behold, as they were about to take their weapons of war, they were overpowered by the persuasions of Helaman [their military and spiritual leader] and his brethren, for they were about to break the oath which they had made.

And Helaman feared lest by so doing they should lose their souls; therefore all those who had entered into this covenant were compelled to behold their brethren wade through their afflictions, in their dangerous circumstances at this time.

But behold, it came to pass they had many sons, who had not entered into a covenant that they would not take their weapons of war to defend themselves against their enemies; therefore they did assemble themselves together at this time, as many as were able to take up arms, and they called themselves Nephites.

And they entered into a covenant to fight for the liberty of the Nephites, yea, to protect the land unto the laying down of their lives; yea, even they covenanted that they never would give up their liberty, but they would fight in all cases to protect the Nephites and themselves from bondage.

Now behold, there were two thousand of those young men, who entered into this covenant and took their weapons of war to defend their country.

And now behold, as they never had hitherto been a disadvantage to the Nephites, they became now at this period of time also a great support; for they took their weapons of war, and they would that Helaman should be their leader.

And they were all young men, and they were exceedingly valiant for courage, and also for strength and activity; but behold, this was not all—they were men who were true at all times in whatsoever thing they were entrusted.

Yea, they were men of truth and soberness, for they had been taught to keep the commandments of God and to walk uprightly before him.

And now it came to pass that Helaman did march at the head of his two thousand stripling soldiers, to the support of the people in the borders of the land on the south by the west sea." (Alma 53:13-22)

The sons of the people of Ammon, known as "the two thousand stripling warriors," were taught by their mothers to put their faith and trust in God.  They chose to fight so that their fathers wouldn't have to.  And this is exactly what our men and women in uniform do today: they fight so that others don't have to.

My grandfather served in the Army in WWII.  Z served in the Marines in the War on Terrorism.  I love and respect these men for what they have done.  I honor all who have put on a uniform, in whatever capacity, to serve and protect this nation and her freedoms.

I know it will never be enough, but thank you for your service.

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