Thursday, March 12, 2009

A Man at Sunset

As the days turn into months that become years, it becomes difficult to imagine that the collective experiences of second platoon Bravo company grow more distant from the present, drifting in a sea of time away from the shores of what was known, and loved. One fights to recall the names and faces of certain characters that were surely there, but not so easily remembered. Firefights and shootouts, dismembered bodies covering the earth (and below it), and uproarious fits of laughter grow fuzzy, their events occasionally muddied in skepticism - did they happen quite the way I remember, or did I simply fill in the gaps with piecemeal memories?

Some events transcend space and time, full of vivid color and smells and gut-feeling that will never go away, no matter what the calendar seems to read. Soon it will be two years since March 14, 2007 - a day that has been on the minds and hearts of everyone that knew and cared for Brian Chevalier.

He was a man that did his job without reservation and without complaint, far outshining and outclassing those of us that bitched at the slightest notion of additional work. His job in combat was a vital one: to navigate the treacherous roads, fields and alleys of Iraq and drop off his squad safely and quickly so they may carry out their mission. He was rarely seen by others not in his squad; the position of driver carries with it extra maintenance and care for the vehicle. While others in the platoon played videogames, smoked cigarettes and sat at the poker table, Chevy was in the thick mud of the motorpool making sure his vehicle was in peak condition. And he did it for his squad.

Perhaps it was best that Chevy never saw it coming. The only indication that something was about to go terribly, horribly wrong was the children on the outside of the school. They seemed to be the only living creatures along the far-reaching road our column of Strykers and Bradleys were on. The children watched each vehicle pass with dark, detached eyes. Baqubah was a city where insurgents operated with impunity, a place where a few men could cut into the street with a concrete saw and bury a massive bomb - and nothing would seem out of the ordinary. The children had a front row street to the mayhem, and almost in unison, they all plugged their ears with their fingers in anticipation for what they knew what was coming: an explosion from deep underground.

What happened next replays in my mind every single day. In an instant, a loving father and a good soldier lay dead on the ground, and the squad he so readily guided was a tangled mass of limbs in the back of the vehicle, turned sideways from the force of the blast. For just a a brief moment, Chevy was airborne. Even in death he was elevated far above his contemporaries. Yet the blast didn't just end his life. For each of us that knew him, it was the defining moment of our lives when we became not only familar with death, but intimate with it. We were a band of young soldiers, many in our early to late 20s. We were not accustomed to the idea of departed souls, and that explosion was the catalyst that set in motion a new reckoning of what it meant to truly love someone, only to see them go. From that day on, we fully understood the power of the bonds forged in the dusty plains of Yakima, in the sand-blasted tents of Kuwait, and on the muddied streets of Iraq. In a snapshot of time, we aged well beyond our years and gained a luminous insight into life and loss that we will forever carry with us in our hearts.

A friend from the platoon recently came to me, worried that he was thinking about Iraq, especially the time of year that Chevy passed.

"I don't know man, I've been thinking about him a lot lately," he said.

"Don't worry," I replied. I think about it every day. Almost anything reminds me of something."

"Yeah, me too."

I realized I wasn't the only one trying to sort out Chevy's death two years later, to search for the meaning behind it all. The explosion that shook our world to its core and ended the life of an honorable man changed something inside of us, a subtle transformation that we felt but continue to define as the years wear on. It took the loss of Chevy to make us whole, and for that, I cannot thank him enough for being a part of second platoon and the spirit for all of our successes and triumphs already accomplished and not yet realized. He brought us home, and for that we owe him a debt of gratitude measured only in prosaic terms.

On March 14 and every day, I'll be thinking of him.


Anonymous said...

Beautiful and very elegant Alex. Chevy would be very proud of you. I love you!

membrain said...

It's not possible for me to read this without feeling pain. And that's a good thing. ZThank you, Alex.

Unknown said...

Setting aside for the moment that I am your proud father, I have very rarely read a piece so moving and powerful. The banner shot of Steve at the American Cemetary in Normandy really places it all in context.

Well done!



David M said...

The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post From the Front: 03/13/2009 News and Personal dispatches from the front and the home front.

Infantry Dad said...

May god rest his soul.
And ease your mind.
A wonderful tribute to your friend.
Take care.

Anonymous said...

I don't think anyone will be upset with this post Alex. It's still hard for everyone to deal with I think. I have no idea what struggles it placed on the plattoon but I can tell you that I still see it with Bryan almost everyday. I still have trouble with it too but for me it's different. It's hard to be grateful that all of you made it home and he didn't. It has made the Winton family different and we live today for today because who knows what tomorrow might bring. Chevy would definitely thank you for keeping his memory alive.

Tabitha Winton

Anonymous said...

thanks for reminding us all not to forget.

Constitutional Insurgent said...

I've been reading your blog as a lurker for some time now, but your post about Brian really hit home.

I was in Baghdad at the same time you were in Baqubah, and I lost a good friend, SFC James Doster.

I wish I had the same literary skills as you do, to remember Jim publicly the way you remember Brian. You honor his memory Brother, he would be proud.

mamalew said...

While living at Ft. Lewis, Steven would call home or drop me an email and tell me about things all of you were doing. He would talk about Yakima and NTC. He would always name names that I couldn't remember because I didn't know any of you. When he would come home on leave, I would make him sit down and point out who was who and tell me a little about them. Unfortunately, I can't remember all the little stories but I do remember names like Chevy, Horton, Dozer, Doc, Meza, Mendy, Josh, Mark, etc... I wish I had gotten to meet all of you. I knew Chevy was his roommate, what I didn't know was just how close all of you had become and how your experiences would tie you together for the rest of your lives. Steven wears the KIA bracelet 24/7 and I know the pain is still there.

Your story is very touching, beautifully written and at the same time very sad. Thank you for the picture of Normandy - it's one of my favorites.

Teresa - Steven's VERY PROUD mom!

bigD said...

The banner of Normandy also reminds me of Arlington and the Vietnam Memorial. When you see the endless rows of markers representing the price that has been paid by so many of our soldiers, it is heart wrenching. Everyone should have to go to Arlington and see for brings tears to my eyes, thinking of those who have paid so dearly in service to this country. The Vietnam Memorial has always moved me in that way as well. So many names, so many lives lost.

This was a fitting tribute to your friend Brian Chevalier. When you write about him, he sounds so much older than his twenty-one years. I don't think it will matter how much time goes by, you will always feel his loss deep within you. I think you will only wonder how the feeling never changes no matter how much time has passed. It is good that you honor his memory and keep him alive in your heart.

I am sorry that you had to lose such a good friend. I am sorry that so many of our young sons and daughters must learn about the grief and sadness of loss in this way. I am sorry you have had to see, hear, and experience the ugliness of war. I wish I could understand why history must continue to repeat itself over and over.

I have several Hero Bracelets of soldiers killed in action. I did not know them personally, but, every day I wear one of them on my arm, I remind myself of those who are grieving for these young men and the lives they will never live. To never forget them and remind myself daily that the losses continue even today.

God bless you Alex. You are a light in the darkness.

Long-time RN said...

Eloquent tribute. So sorry for the circumstances which caused it to be written. Chevy and so many others need to be remembered.

Victor said...

You didn't have to say much but it was more than enough.

The Minstrel Boy said...

there are those moments. the things that once seen, can never be unseen. i have a full kitbag of chevys. i remember them all. this time of year has always been full of those memories. i was 19 when tet went down, when it was finally over, i was a whole lot older than some of the lifers around me.

now, because of the way you write, and the way you feel your losses, i will carry chevy with me too.

he's welcome there.

bless you alex.

Hal Kimball said...

Thanks Alex! Your writing and tributes are amazing!

A soldier from Denmark said...

Don't know what to say, really. Just ... peace. For you and everyone else others seeking it.

And thx for your service.

Ms. Single Mama said...

You are amazing. I'm not sure how I stumbled across your blog but I just wanted to say "hi" and that this story is very, very, very touching.

We think of all of you more than you know.

Vero Zavala said...

Wow this was beautiful! Jason was reading it and it was just WOW!