When I was living in New York in the 90s I always liked Memorial Day Weekend. It marked the beginning of Summer of course. And if I was out at the beach I would make sure to visit one of the little war memorials that all the Long Island villages have, and pause in front of the flags and flowers. It moved me but in what I now see was a abstract, generalized way.
These days when Memorial Day comes I remember two fine men, two soldiers whom I had the privilege of knowing just over a decade ago. Both of them looked out for me in Baghdad in Spring 2003 during what the military calls OIF1. At the time both men were in the 4-64 AR – the 4th Battalion, 64th Armored Regiment, which was then part of the 3rd Infantry Division but has since been disbanded.
Their names were Sgt Matthew Deckard and SSG Clint (William) Moore.
Clint was in the Scout platoon and for a while I rode in his Humvee. Matt Deckard drove an M1 Abrams but I rode with him in an Bradley fighting vehicle on the unit’s first “presence patrol” in Baghdad (which was when the photo above was taken).
Matthew Deckard, who was 29, was killed on September 16, 2005 when an IED destroyed his tank in Baghdad. He left behind a wife and three children.
Clint Moore was killed on April 23rd 2007 in Baquba Iraq, while serving with the 5-73 Cavalry (82nd Airborne Division), when his patrol base was came under attack. He was posthumously awarded a Silver Star for his courage under fire and for rescuing his fellow paratroopers even when mortally wounded. (The citation is here).
Memorial Day is different for me now. It’s a day on which I cannot help but think of those two men and mourn them.
And inevitably I think of all the other people out there who are remembering and mourning – many of them remembering the sacrifice of close friends and comrades, of brothers, or fathers or sons. There are thousands of them, spread out across the country and the world, but all linked by memory and loss.
The grief is painful, but I am sure that it is a good thing that we have this day when we deliberately, formally, collectively bring to mind and honor the men and women we lost in war.
A cynic might point out that remembering the fallen cannot do them any good, or do anything for the families they left behind, that it is just sentimentality. I don’t agree. Remembrance may not be much. It may be the very least we could do for a fallen soldier and his family, but it does count for something. It is part of a wider, bigger social force that gives their lives – and deaths – meaning. Yes the dead may not know that they are remembered, they may not even have cared in life about being remembered after death, though most people do. But surely we all want to live in a world in which sacrifices for the common good are valued. As a society and as individuals we have a profound emotional need to remember the fallen, and not only is there nothing wrong with that, it is one of the things that makes us human in the best sense. You could even argue that it is an act that makes us better citizens and better people.
In any case, they deserve it and their families deserve it – whether or not they know about it. And though it makes me sad I am glad to do it.