When Memorial Day Bleeds Across the Calendar

As the Stryker rumbled around a corner, I began to drift out of consciousness. Having rolled into Baqubah only a few hours earlier—and still unsure of our surroundings—we were confident our armored vehicles would intimidate the enemy here as they did in other areas. Though it was only mid-March, the temperature was flirting with triple digits as we strained under the weight of armor and ammunition. My eyes grew heavy as the radio squawked about conditions outside the windowless green truck.

The streets were suddenly desolate, except for a group of kids sitting on the courtyard wall of a school. In seconds, the radio chatter followed, as it began to mirror the sense of foreboding that swept over the men in the hatches. No cars were on the roads and shops and cafes were empty. The ghosts of the city watched silently as we passed concealed roadside bombs and abandoned houses rigged to explode. As we approached the school, the kids on the wall plugged their ears and grinned in depraved anticipation. They had been waiting for us all morning.

The blast that killed Brian Chevalier tore through armored steel like a bull colliding with a thin red sheet. His Stryker took flight for just a moment, corkscrewed through the air and landed on its side. Broken bodies poured out the back and were loaded onto other trucks as machine guns fired on rooftops lined with insurgents. Chevy was placed gently into a body bag as the school courtyard wall was being eaten by monstrous Bradley guns. The kids either ran away or lay dead in the compound. Chevy was not the only one who slipped into darkness that day.

Even as a young kid, I reflected on my distant relative killed at Gettysburg, and the men my grandfather and uncle knew in Korea and Vietnam who came home in flag-draped transfer cases. But a turn down a trash-strewn road fundamentally changed the concept of love and loss for many in the platoon. We were young soldiers and unaccustomed to death. It was no longer something only our grandparents had to worry about. Suddenly we were eulogizing our brother who never had a chance to grow old and live a full life.

Memorial Day is meant to remind folks of the sacrifice borne by those who fell in battle in defense of the country, as well as their families. But once you lose someone in combat, Memorial Day bleeds across the rest of the calendar. Chevy’s name is written across the steel bracelet I wear on my wrist, and it’s as indelible as any memory of him that I have. It would be unconscionable to keep his memory constrained to one day a year, and the same goes for the other men we lost. The anniversaries of their deaths have become somber rallying points for the platoon. We call each other, share stories and catch up on old times. We toast and drink over the phone. The guys get back together across telephone lines and Facebook walls.

I hope civilians find more solace in Memorial Day than I do. Many seem to forget why it exists in the first place, and spend the time looking for good sales or drinking beers on the back porch. It’s a long weekend, not a period of personal reflection. At the same time, many incorrectly thank Vets or active duty folks for their service. While appreciated, it’s misdirected. That’s what Veterans Day is for. Instead, they should take some time and remember the spirit of the country and the dedication of those men and women who chose to pick up arms. They never came home to be thanked, and only their memory remains.

Chevy’s death sent shock waves through our unit and took a soldier from his men, and a father from his daughter. It was the moment we realized we weren’t invincible or young anymore. We grew up on that schoolhouse road. Memorial Day has simply become another day to think about him. But for those who haven’t lost anyone in battle, I hope they can, at least for a moment, share in the sorrow and incredible pride I feel for after having served with him. He remains forever a soldier.

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61 Comments to “When Memorial Day Bleeds Across the Calendar”

  1. a Gold Star Father says:

    Forever young. Thank you for this tribute. Memorial Day is Everyday.

    • Chris Paulsen says:

      I what to thank all the Veterans and Remember all that served and sacraficed for this Great Country. This morning I has a Nice Family in Independance, OH purchase my breakface for me and I am so Thankful cause I am also a Disabled Veteran. Thank you America.

    • Cami Miller says:

      Wonderful tribute, eloquent writing, emotionally moving. Thank you for putting into words what many probably can’t. I have not lost anyone in the battlefield for freedom but I feel the depth of the impact in your heart. God bless you, brother, and all those who have lost loved ones the way you did. We salute their memories, we are here enjoying our freedoms because they have kept us safe. And to those who were there and left behind like you,thank you!, and may the wonderful memories you shared together continue to burn ablaze!

    • Mark Jpohnson says:

      Here is the online version of the front page of the Athens Banner Herald. It lists area vets KIA from WWI on. Brian is listed here

      http://www.onlineathens.com/stories/053011/new_836999348.shtml

  2. Hank Woyshner says:

    Just like the 57 Chevy, Brian will never be forgotten and share your grief

  3. Steve Lewey says:

    I’m glad you’re my friend, and a talented writer. Oddly enough, I take pride in your writing, knowing exactly what you’re talking about, even when certain details are missing. I’m glad someone from our family can write, and tell the stories that we went through, and the feelings we all feel. Thanks Alex.

    • Alex Horton says:

      Thanks Steve, I don’t think we could’ve asked for a better platoon. Wouldn’t trade any of those guys (well, maybe E-6 Jones). Really did me good to see you guys again, but over too soon.

  4. Chloe Wilson says:

    This is wonderful and I find it very comforting. I lost my brother PFC Thomas Wilson in Afghanistan in August 2007, not only is Memorial day tough, but everyday and I do not think everyone in our country truely sees the sacrifice these soldiers have taken.

    • Jessa says:

      I agree, Chloe. My brother was the only of three to survive an IED in Baghdad. I know he thinks about his brothers every day and I know he’ll never forget. Unfortunately, I think because some people don’t have the links to soldiers as we do, they are out of touch, and not as diligent as we are about remembering. I also want to confess, as his sister/family, that Memorial Day isn’t the only day WE remember, though it does provide a concentrated time for us to express it. These wounds extend far. Respectfully.

  5. John Rogers says:

    A wonderful and moving tribute. As children, we were blessed to learn early on what Memorial Day was all about. We had a US Marine Father who fought in the Korean War. Memorial Days were VERY quiet around our house. Our Dad always went off alone to 8 AM Mass and would then sit quietly, staring out our back porch with a distant look in his eyes that none of us wanted to penetrate. We had no big family barbeques…our three Uncles had their fallen comrades from another war to remember, too.

    We were blessed by their living examples of Memorial Day’s meaning. As a nation, we will ALWAYS be blessed by those who “stand the watch” on our behalf and too often, don’t return home alive.

  6. Well said, Alex. I too served in Baqubah, and wear a steel bracelet 24/7/365. There are exactly zero days per year, for the rest of my life, that are not lived in the memory of those who died in that sandy hell.

    • Alex Horton says:

      Thanks Anthony. I’m glad we can always spot each other with our certain looks and steel bracelets. Tuesday won’t be much different from Monday when it comes to those memories.

  7. Jessa says:

    Alex! What a great way to keep it alive. Thank you so much for sharing.

  8. Jordan says:

    Great article. My image of the VA is improving as I read more about the great works that you are doing and the honor and respect that you give in each of your tributes. Keep up the great work.

  9. Empty Spaces. 4454 Dead in Iraq.

    We honor them this Memorial Day not by sending more of our brothers and sisters to die. Do the dead lack company?

    Since the invasion of 2003, 4454 Americans died in Iraq. How many is that? I decided to show myself, typing one X for each of them.

    It did not take that long– a soldier hit in a major vessel can bleed out in only a few minutes– one key after another. Joshua, Jacob, Rahim, Carol, Towana, Richard, a couple of Peters, another with the same name as my own military-age child. Too many took their own lives, but just an X below nonetheless because they died of this war same as those who died in it.

    Pick one X and think about him or her. Eleven died in April alone. Two more in May.

    For every X is a space, 4454 of them too, moms and dads, brothers, friends, girlfriends, dogs, empty spaces.

    Type it out yourself, then do what I did, lock yourself in the bathroom and curse.

    X X X X X X X X X X X X X

    X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X… more at http://wemeantwell.com/blog/2011/05/27/empty-spaces-4454-dead-in-iraq/

    • Randy Robinson says:

      It is so easy to talk about the dead in Iraq, what about those in Afghanistan? The so-called forgotten war doesn’t run across people’s minds unless they were there, or so it would seem.

      • BunnyOlesen says:

        Hey Randy, that’s just not so ! ;( sorry if it feels that way. The man who wrote this article was in Iraq, that’s all & I”m reading about battles all the way back to the civil war. Afghanistan is always on my mind; those guys have it very rough over there; so many rules to protect civvies and not enough to protect our boys. I’m very sorry, but people get killed in wars, and I want my people to survive. I wish they would pull out. They will NEVER solve anything they way they are doing it. Arabs/muslims have been fighting for at least 1,400 years and they just seem to want to live that way.

  10. Larry Kirby says:

    As an 11B from Vietnam, a war so long ago now some young kids now have never heard of it, I look upon those fighting today with awe and wonder–that they can return for tour after tour and face the same perils without complaint, with a sense of duty and courage that cannot be overstated. I weep for those lost and wish for their families to overcome some of their grief with pride. The young men and women that our nation has sent into harm’s way are the very best of country.

    When the news shows waste time on some celebrity’s latest misstep I want to scream at them–”Start every show with a something about those serving in the war–tell their stories”–drive home what we lose in each of these special lives. The fluff and nonsense can wait until all those we have sent to war return.

  11. Marie Titus says:

    Thank you Chloe for sharing this on facebook. Thank you Alex for your words and sharing painful memories. As a daughter and sister to three retired Army veterans I am fortunate enough that they all returned to go on to raise families and to grow old. These three men have instilled in their families love of country and the respect for the flag and to those that served and lost thier lives while serving. One of my brothers to this day still flies an MIA flag so he and others will not forget. The company I work for flies the American flag daily. On Monday even though we will not be here our company’s CEO will come to the building and lower our flag to halfmast to honor those who have given so much for us to have so much. Maybe it is only those who have served and their families that will reflect and remember why there is a Memorial Day but know that with our small and simple displays (sharing memories, flying flags or lowering flags) we will do our best to let others know those that died are not to be forgotten.

  12. Hooter says:

    In the Navy, ships on long deployments often publish cruise books. Looking back over the photos on the last pages I’m reminded of those shipmates who lost their lives at sea. Some during flight operations on the flight deck and crashes, fires, mishaps- accidents aboard ship. Battling mother nature some of the youngest sailors washed overboard during high seas which we never found.

    We remember the big wars, but we never remember the other conflicts, Iranian Hostage Crisis, Operation Earnest Will, Lebanon, Libya, Granada, Panama, the Cold War years….

    To my shipmates who are still on patrol, you are not forgotten.

  13. Scott Lee says:

    Such a powerful outpouring of emotion, reverence and commitment to the memory of our fallen in battle. Welcome home Alex, and welcome home to all those that made back.

  14. HARRY CROMER says:

    Alex,
    Again, thanks for bringing our memories and the memories of our fallen buddies to life. You are so talented, keep it up, and I look forward to a book in the next 15 years.

  15. Karen Meredith says:

    Thank you for this blog entry, it is the perfect reminder of what Memorial Day is about.

    The steel bracelet that I wear has my son’s name in it. He was killed on Memorial Day 2004 in Iraq. How can a minute go by without me thinking of him.? For others, they will enjoy their long weekend with nary a thought for those who did not come home.

  16. Elizabeth Miller says:

    Thank you, Alex Horton, for your memories and thoughts, so clear and meaningful. Thank you also to those who’ve contributed their comments, as well, particularly Karen Meredith, whom I will quote when I repost this on my Facebook wall.

    Please know that there are a great many of us who, though we have not lost a family member or close friend, still understand your story, and what Memorial Day means. We are honoring those who have fallen in service, and we are grateful also to all those who did, and will, come home. We know none of you are unchanged.

  17. Joe Lynch says:

    My best friend, Dana Barker, was forced to land his poorly maintained Huey into an ambush near Pleiku. He was mortally wounded and died on the operating table several hours after being evaced.

    I was honored to be his body escort back to San Diego. I was also honored to be a part of his military funeral, where he was buried in Ft. Rosecrans on Point Loma. I was very saddened to present the flag to my friend, Dana’s wife, Brenda.

    A few years ago I was also honored to touch his name on the Vietnam Memorial Wall.

    Dana is with the Lord we both love.

    Today I am a United Methodist pastor, serving a congregation in a church building in Tulsa, Oklahoma, that once was an Army chapel at Camp Gruber.

    Blessings to all who have lost loved ones and remember them this Memorial Day weekend.

    Rev. Dr. Joe Lynch

  18. Robert H. says:

    Thanks for this wonderful posting. I recently started a job at the VA and stories like is what makes me feel like I’m finally at a job that has true meaning. While a lot of people don’t feel that pride that I feel working to serve our Veterans who are still here to be served, I think often about those who aren’t here to be served in such a way, and at least I can say I’m doing something. I think I’ll print this out and post it up on the bulletin board at work for all to read and appreciate.

  19. Christine Murphy says:

    “They fought together as brothers in arms; they died together and now they sleep side by side…To them, we have a solemn obligation — the obligation to ensure that their sacrifice will help make this a better and safer world in which to live”. Admiral Chester W. Nimitz

  20. Ken Tassey says:

    I still grieve for my little brother, Malcolm, killed in Vietnam July 2, 1967. It does not go away. Although Memorial Day is a special day to remember those who died in service of their country, those of us who have lost someone in times of war still live with it every day. No matter what some may think of the conflicts our country engages in, the kids that went are the one’s that gave their lives for your ability to live in a free country where you can voice your opinion, but this forum is not the place for it. This is to honor the men and women who gave all. No war is ever good, but the kids that go are.

  21. Aaron Vice says:

    Alex I don’t know if you know about it or not but Fragoso and other guys are working on a book.
    They asked that if anyone from any of 5/20 wants to submit any stories from any of the three deployments.
    Let me know if your interested and I’ll give you more info.
    CPT Frank Hill is head of the project he was a medo during the 1st deployment and a good friend of Mine.

  22. Philip Poole says:

    15 March 2005: SSG Ricky Allen Kieffer, killed by sniper fire in Baghdad, Iraq. We meet at his gravesite every year on that date. He is sorely missed.

  23. Robin Knight says:

    Thank you for sharing the meaning of Memorial Day with this very moving personal experience, for putting into words what so many are not able to do, for your service to our country, and also for all the others who were compelled to share their personal stories here. Many of my family members have served in the armed forces throughout the years, and my son is currently in the Air Force. My deepest gratitude goes out to all those who have fought for our freedoms; and I will continue to respect, remember, and honor them. May peace be with all those who have served and returned home!

  24. Cat Williams says:

    We at Battlesaint remember, honor and recognize every single Hero who has sacrificed himself or herself for our Country. You are right Mr Horton. It is unconscionable to keep their memory constrained to just one day a year. Every single day we need to pay homage to our heroes. Remember and Support the Troops every single day!
    Cat – Battlesaint Bracelets

  25. Kim Breece says:

    Thank You to Smitty from Conroe Tx. You never saw 21 so that the rest of us could live in freedom and enjoy the bill of rights you gave your life to protect. Thank You Smitty

  26. Robert McClure says:

    Thank for ALL for your service!

  27. David Brown says:

    It is truely sad that we have to lose those we love for the freedoms we enjoy. It is these unselfish sacrifices our service members make on everyday of their lives that afford us these freedoms. Those that have not served or have no service members in their families will never know the true sacrifices others have given for them. We are all brothers no matter the branch we served under. We may bicker about which branch is the best, but let someone mess with any of them and we are all there backing one another. I now work at a VA Hospital and am honored to be working with and serving my brothers past and present. Thank you for all you have done! And thank you to your families for their support.

  28. Lisa says:

    I can say when I saw the article at the top of the page, my heart skipped a beat. Baquabah, I remember the place well. Lost a few friends there. Memorial day is definitely a day that I dread. I think about my fellow soliders every day of the year, on Memorial Day as well as other days, there are definitely reminders that are center stage. I try ignoring them by hiding in my room or taking a drive but the reminders are still there. Sometimes I think that the only way to get my mind off them is to try and join them. Then I look at my son and think otherwise. I hope Americans can take at least a moment to think about what this day really means. May the service members still serving have at least one day of peace!!

    • David Brown says:

      Lisa, I hope and pray for inner peace for you in the coming days. It never gets easier to remember our brothers and sisters. The one thing we do still have though is each other. You are not alone in your feelings of wanting to join them, several have after returning home. The reason we survive is to spread a message to others of the sacrifices some have made for our freedoms and because we have a greater purpose to fulfill. Right now, yours is your son. You have to show him how strong you are and how that inner strength will get us through anything. I hope in your moments of sorrow you can find the strength to get through it always. Dave

  29. Flight ( recon ) says:

    I to knows and feel the sorrow of how people forget what this day is for. I see how they think of sales and BBQ. I tell everyone to sit a plate aside for me fallen brothers and sister who i lost and never forgotten on this day. I am to a four time combat war vet who also is a IED surviver.

  30. jason bill says:

    As a fellow combat vet, RIP to ALL of our fallen warriors, without the sacrifices you who gave EVERYTHING our country would not be what it is.God bless ALL WHO GUARD THE WALLS WE LIVE BEHIND, may the citizens of our country never have second of doubt that they are being kept safe from the evils of this world.Charlie Mike(to the civilians reading this CM is military speak for “continue the mission”).

  31. Matty says:

    Thanks Alex, your good at putting words to paper when I can’t find a way to express my thoughts in any way other than a few tears.

  32. David says:

    Alex, of course you don’t know me. But you dare to speak the truth about the true meaning of Memorial Day and many, although not those who also served and those who remember and honor the servicemen and women who paid the ultimate sacrifice in defense of our country, seem to gloss through the bitter facts. Memorial Day, as you so aptly write, is about loss and remembrance, not deals and suntan lotion. Thank you for your words and your service.

  33. SFC (RET) Jorge Castro says:

    “It’s the soldier, not the reporter, who has given us freedom of the press. It’s the soldier, not the poet, who has given us freedom of speech. It’s the soldier, not the campus organizer, who has given us, the freedom to demontrate. it’s the soldier, not the lawyer, who has given us the right to a fair trial. It’s the soldier who salutes the flag, serves under the flag, and whose coffin is draped by the flag, who gives the protestor, the right to burn the flag.” -Father Dennis O’Brien USMC Thanks SSG.Miguel Ramos.

    • Thanks for posting this. Ranger Up created a t-shirt with this on the back and I wear it often. On the front is what’s been called the soldier’s memorial or the soldier’s cross – I don’t know if either is accurate.

  34. Michael Halperin says:

    Dear Alex,

    Read about all you are doing to try and help the vets. Bravo. If you have a down minute, please call me to discuss an issue concerning inequitable treatment of various classes of Veterans.

    Mike Halperin
    U.S. Navy Veteran
    757.481.2844

  35. Bill Dolney says:

    I agree with all that has been commented on for the veterans
    that served and are now serving
    A VERY MEMORY MEMORIAL DAY TO ALL THE FAMILYS
    AND VERTERANS
    GOD BLESS ALL FOR DOING THEIR PART IN OUR FREEDOM

  36. Scott Diller says:

    Kinda interesting how any Baquba stories are begining to surface. I actualy just started writing my book. A large portion of it is from my time in In Iraq late march 03 to late nov 03. One day soon people will know what our troops endured. Good luck. God bless. Warhorse mike out.

  37. Alex – I join with you in honoring the fallen. Thank you for the eloqent reminder about the purpose of Memorial Day.

    Memorial day is a day to honor those who died fighting our nation’s conflicts. The last measure of devotion that our war dead gave should be honored in our memory. We should also earn what they have already bought with their lives. More thoughts on this at http://barbersedge.blogspot.com/

  38. May God bless you all, and give you the opportunity to enjoy today’s freedom. We honor those that have not returner may be, because they have been capture as an “MIA” or simply separated their soul from there body to joint our heavenly father. For those that continue serving o those who are no longer with us, this day, And God may bless them and their families, amen SFC Victor A. Rodriguez/2nd bn 10th SFG (A) /Persian gulf (3 times) 1190 -1991

  39. Bill Shine says:

    Beautifully written. Alex, you should write every day of your life because you have a gift. I am thinking of Chevy today and I will be thinking of him tomorrow and beyond. God bless our hero.

  40. I hope it warms your heart to know that there’s a small army of friends Chevy never knew who remember him because of your blog post about him on Army of Dude. I still see his picture in my mind, silhouetted against a clear blue sky. And, perhaps because I’m a mom and a grandmother, I always think of his daughter as well.

    In the years (can it really be that long!) since Army of Dude I’ve witnessed time and time again the immeasurable, heartrending grief of families meeting the bodies of their loved ones on the flight line and again when they bury them a day or so later. I’m covered in chills just thinking about it. Each service member lost in Iraq or Afghanistan for whom I’ve stood a flag line becomes part of me, as Chevy did. It may surprise you to know that I think of Chevy often. Standing a flag line means absolute silence and I bet I’m not the only one who stands in silence going thru a sort of mental roll call remembering each of the men and women killed overseas whose arrival and burial we’ve witnessed. Their stories, their families, their grave sites become part of the Patriot Guard Riders who stand for them. We came to be in response to the activities of the Westboro Baptist Church. While our original mission was to protect grieving families from demonstrators, we’ve learned that our presence – each of us holding an American Flag mounted on an 8′ staff, is of great comfort to the families. I can only imagine how it feels for the family to follow the coffin of their loved thru the protective passage formed by a bunch of gray haired hippie types lining both sides of their progress – silent, flags waving, hands over hearts. Ok, to be fair, there are a few younger people – usually from Davis Monthan AFB. But I could count them on one hand and have fingers left over. It’s not unusual for those of us waiting at a cemetery ahead of the procession of roaring, flag bearing Harleys escorting the hearse, to visit the graves of those we’ve attended before.

    So, yes Alex, some civilians find more solace in Memorial Day than you do. Your hurt is still raw and I hope that over time it will ease for you. I wish more Americans felt the meaning of the Day, but I think the brou-ha-ha at Maxine’s (the cartoon) Facebook page tells the tale. I had to “like” her to read it and it left me angry and sad and worried for a nation whose people don’t understand/remember the meaning of Memorial Day. It’s because of them that I’m thankful for people like you, Kate, Jason, Ryan and the thousands of others serving, and lost in service, to this nation.

    So, I don’t care what you say — My grateful thanks to all of you :-)

    ~P~

    PS: Say hi and congrats to Kate for me :)
    And, hey, next time someone says “thanks” just smile and say “you’re welcome” ;-)

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