Monday, May 25, 2009

Live Free, Die Well

My old team leader Jesse was a curious mix of disarming humor and overt seriousness. He would joke and jump around, shouting quotes from Rambo and countless Schwarzenegger movies. His laugh, deep from the belly, echoed down the halls of the barracks and in between the plaster and brick homes of very bewildered Iraqis. Just as quick, though, he'd delve into moments of austere reflection on the tide of war that swept over us. While training to deploy, he hunched over to Josh and me and let us in on a secret ritual that he did during his first deployment with the scouts. Right before the ramp dropped, he would shout, "Live Free!" to which we would reply, "Die Well!" Even though we were about to dismount to shoot blanks and throw fake grenades at people pretending to be insurgents, he said it exactly like he would in combat.

When I was younger, I took the time on Memorial Day to think about men I never met. The Marines that didn't come back with my uncle from Vietnam, and the infantrymen who gave their all with my grandfather in Korea. I thought about a distant relative, killed in battle at Gettysburg. Now that I'm on the other side of the civilian coin, I'm not sure what to think or do on this day. Like I've described before, every day is Memorial Day when you spend months and years with someone, learning their favorite movies and parent's names and their least favorite Spice Girl, only to see their lives end much too soon. The moment you leave a memorial service for someone killed in action, the feelings that come out on Memorial Day are amplified and refracted across the spectrum of emotion. You get a bit each day, forever.

Jesse and Chevy will never be with us again, but their spirits carry on. I can't even look at my backpack without sparking a memory of Jesse. Chevy's name is etched across the bracelet of my wrist, never to be removed. Reminders of their sacrifice are not limited to the attachment of physical objects, but to the future itself. They died well so we could live free. Keep that in mind today, for tomorrow the flags will come down, the barbecues will simmer and the memories of the fallen will quietly fade away.

Please use the comments section to post a story of someone you knew that fell in battle. Doesn't matter who, doesn't matter what war.


Alex Horton said...

I'll start:

My favorite memories of Chevy are all the times that Jaime Hernandez woke him up at 7:00 in the morning after a long mission to go eat breakfast. It was in the barracks at Taji, and Chevy always refused, provoking Jaime to shout and yell, "Come on Chevy, I need a fucking battle buddy man!" I don't think I ever saw him refuse - we all wanted breakfast but were too lazy to take a five minute bus ride to get there. Chevy didn't get much sleep in the mornings, but at least he had three meals a day.

Annette said...

John Wells, 1967 VietNam. He and his brother were both in country. They just happened to get a chance to meet up, had dinner spend about 6 hours talking, sharing letters, catching up. Then they had to go their separate ways.

Three weeks later John stepped where he shouldn't have, right on a "bouncing Betty". It was rough knowing he was coming home, but not the way we wanted him to.

He was a short timer. Had just a month left.

We lost so many during that time. He was just one of them from here at my home.

Marc said...

Only five defining forces have ever offered to die for you:

1. Jesus Christ

2. The Canadian Soldier.

3. The British Soldier.

4. The US Soldier, and

5. The Australian Soldier

One died for your soul, the other 4 for your freedom.

Anonymous said...

Alex. I have personally known six people who have died. Jesse Martinez, Demetrius Rice, Thomas Thomas, Jesse Williams, Brian Chevelier, Richard Cliff. These guys paid the ultimate sacrifice. I am honored to have known and served with them. May they all rest in peace
-Joshua Keim

TheAlbrechtSquad said...

Everyday I wear a bracelet. It's simple. Black. White letters.

It means a lot to me. There are others who wear the same bracelet. Everyone wears it for their own reasons. In Memory. Legacy. Honor. Camaraderie. Freedom.

5-25-09 is Memorial Day 2009.

The bracelet makes everyday Memorial Day.

I won't forget, I will remember.

SFC Bryant Herlem & SGT Jose Gomez

TSO said...

I'm somewhat embarassed to admit that I only knew in passing th3 2 guys we lost in my battalion, SSG Craig Cherry and SGT Bobby Beasley. We lost more guys when we came back (Sgt Stevens, SSG Burton, SPC Oscar Martinez.)

Martinez was in my company, and apparently he didn't make the transition back to civilian life well. But, my one memory of how great a guy he was was when I got word in A-stan that my dog had escaped from our house and hit and killed by a car. I went outside to mourn in private, and Martinez saw me, and ran right over to make sure I was okay. I waved him off, wanting to be alone. About 2 hours later I was still seated there when Martinez came walking up with some food and Gatorade. I thanked him and he just nodded and walked off. That was just the kind of guy (kid really) that he was. Couldn't bear others being down. He never mentioned it to me, and I never mentioned it afterwards, but when I learned of his death, that was immediately what I looked back to. And still feel guilt that in my hour of need he was there, but I was not when he needed me.

Bill Wabbit said...

I hadn't had any, and I'm an IRR soldier who was called up so I honestly thought I'd make it through without knowing any. However, 4 days before memorial day, I lost two IRR buddies of mine here in Baghdad. Let your IRR buddies know they're that much luckier to get out of this godforsaken deployment they almost had to show up for.

RIP MAJ George and SGT Brooks -

Anonymous said...

I never knew my great Uncle David. My Dad was named for him. He was on the USS Dorchester when it went down.
On February 2nd, 1943 while moving through Torpedo Alley near Greenland, The USS Dorchester was slammed by a torpedo launched from a German U-boat that had tracked them through the night.

There were 900 plus soldiers, sailors, crewmen aboard. They took a direct hit in the engine room and many died instantly. The ship sunk in 27 minutes despite efforts to be righted. 675 people died, the dead, the ship lost at sea.

Four Chaplains were aboard and lost their lives, "so that others may live" when they gave up their life vests due to a shortage on the ship. It is these four men who are remembered on a postage stamp. My Grandmother never let me forget those chaplains or my uncle.
After all these years, and no memorial or funeral service in 1943, at the American Legion Post bearing his name, he was memorialized and a flag with 48 stars was flown in his honor...64 years later.
In 2004, I paid my respects to President Reagan and laid a wreath at the WW2 memorial where CT was in honor of my Great Uncle.
They gave up their future for our today and for that I don't think thank-you is ever enough.

Typepad is screwing up...


The Sniper said...

Very well done, Alex. Very well done.

Victor said...

Alex, I completely forgot about those times. I remember we would give Chevy so much shit for going with Jaime.
I also remember Henry and me would take our unit patches off, hold Chevy down and just scrape his face and arms. Good times.

Constitutional Insurgent said...

On the 29th of September 2007, I lost my friend Jim Doster.

A guy, who like me, wanted nothing more than to lead soldiers one more time before retiring. A guy who, like me, had heartache about where the Army had sent him during his career, and the regrets of missed opportunities. Jim and I became friends while sitting next to each other during Battle Staff NCO Course at Fort Riley. Since we had PC's at our desks, we would entertain each other by trying to find the most ridiculous and raunchiest pictures possible on the internet (not easy on a .gov domain), while the instructor droned on about Combat Service Support or some other less than thrilling topic.

Leading men in battle is the pinnacle of the profession of a warrior. It's not a dream or desire that someone truly wishes for, because true warriors pray for peace. But when the call comes, there is no greater honor, nor greater test than meeting the challenge of combat, defeating your enemy and keeping your men alive.

After enduring the indentured servitude of staff work at FOB Falcon, Jim was called up, and took the reigns of a platoon of door kickers from our Brigade, but based out of FOB Rustimiyuh. A couple of weeks before he was scheduled to come home for R&R, an IED took his life. He didn't go quickly or without a fight. Despite severe trauma and loss of blood, Jim held on through the evacuation to the CSH in the IZ (Green Zone). He fought his greatest battle, but it was not enough.

My brother, who I could always go to when I was down....who would always join me in bitching about the oxygen thieves we worked with, and for......left for another FOB, and then left forever.

Like me, he had a loving wife and two beautiful daughters that were the center of his universe. We made plans to get our families together after we returned from Baghdad. We talked of our plans to retire and what in the world we would do once we grew up.

Two friends, two brothers..........united in profession, the love of our families and the simple pursuit of trying to do the right thing. One gets to go home and lead a full life, the other ripped away in an instant. One family living each day in innocent bliss, sometimes taking for granted the true treasures of life; the other living each day changed by the pulse of an electrical circuit and explosives, never enjoying a day without sorrow.

Why? Who rolled the dice that day and decided that Jim couldn't come home? What greater purpose was served by Kathryn and Grace not having their Daddy? My greatest nightmare is to think of my two young daughters in that same situation. That's all I can write now, I'm sitting in Starbucks and people are starting to look at me funny.

I try to honor Jim's memory in the only way I know love my wife and daughters like he loved his. I wear his KIA bracelet on my wrist everyday to remember.

Anonymous said...

I had an uncle who was a Green Beret in Vietnam. His helicopter crashed in Laos during one of his missions. I was born well after he passed away, but the stories I have heard about him show that he was a very funny and wonderful guy. He had a middle name that seemed girlish to him, so he told my parents if they ever had a boy, give him a middle name that was boyish. My middle name is the same as his, but it is more "boyish." I never met him, yet when I think of my name, I do think of him. Maybe he still lives on through my name, in a sense?

I thank all our veterans for their service and I wish you all the very best.


Doc said...

A little late as I have been stuck in a real s***hole FOB for the last little bit. My own personal memorial to fallen friends.

Hardtack said...

No real stories of friends here. I am surrounded by men who have served during the various wars we have fought (starting with my Dad, who is still alive). But a very nice post, Alex, along with a thought provoking picture. It shows the true cost of freedom.

Anonymous said...

well said viet nam was 40 years ago but i can close my eyes and it was like yesterday.a-2-5 1st cav.1969.dan cahill torn apart by a rpg. ken brenner our medic and i were working hard to keep him alive but he kept yelling to just"kill me"2 months later after we had been dropped into a large nva ambush. ken was killed while treating the wounded.thanks for letting me share them with all of you. bopdun

Amanda Moralez said...


I don't know how I came about your blog...but I am glad I did. I am not in the service....however my grandfather was in the Korean War (CONFLICT MY A$$). He was my hero. He didn't pass away until a few years ago...but he served just the same.

I have two uncles who followed in this foot steps. They both served in the AF for 21 yrs and after retiring they are both contracted by the military in their current jobs.

I always thought it would have been great to follow their lead however due to being CHUBBY FROM BIRTH...I don't think I would have made it.

So Alex...and who ever soldiers read this after I post this...THANK YOU for being brave. THANK YOU for helping keep the US free. THANK YOU for defending not only your family and/or community but STRANGERS.

Thank you.

Anonymous said...

I served in Iraq with the Army in 2004, 1st Cav, in SW Baghdad, Camp Falcon, I decided about three months into my deployment that the war was total bullshit, Iraq was never a threat to us and of course their were no WMDs, I could not find a good reason why the four guys from my battalion died, nothing changed in Baghdad after their deaths, and nothing changed back in the states because of their deaths, besides their families being ruined, but the rest of America doesn't care, they go about their lives and hardly think about the war, maybe they'll but a $2.99 "Support the Troops" magnet for their car but that is about how far their support goes, it is sad, the stupid American Idol and bimbos like Britney Spears get more press than the war, and that pisses me off.

Anonymous said...

My husband is in the Army and I feel selfish praying every single day that he never step foot downrange, that he somehow escape it all. My husband isn't the only one I pray for though, I pray for every soldier everywhere. Alex, as a Journalism major, I think you are an incredible writer and your words are just quite exuberant! I came across your site today as it was listed on AOL as one of "The Most Controversial Websites." I'm glad to see someone writing the TRUTH! God Bless you and your fellow soldiers! You are all constantly in my thoughts and prayers! May God keep you safe and may your words and site spread to reach thousands more!

Anonymous said...

Wow, divinity brought me year husband had como blackout for 3 days which is really hard on our young autistic son (whe didn't know about the autism when he joined but seeing as our only option at the time seemed to be homelessness I don't know it would have mattered) By day 3 I was frustrated with the blackout as well as our son's deterioration. I made my mind up early on that if I ever lost track of him, I'd make a point of being available for the news so the other kids could hear from thier parents or parents could hear from thier kids.

People tell you almost hopefully that maybe he'll 'just get injured' so he can come home, not realizing that 'just injured' is anything short of death, and that this isn't such a comforting thought, when your heart and lungs live in someone's target on the other side of the world. People- even people you thought were close friends, will also remind you that "there's no draft, we all live with he consequences of our actions", not realizing how the laws change and a lot of people didn't sign up for the situation they find themselves in. As my husband says "They've drank the cool-aide"

It feels pretty selfish waiting for the como blackout to be over. In this case, one of the units took a Humvee (roads were too narrow for the MRAPS) a 13 year old retarded kid (I don't know how they find out these details) threw a grenade at the humvee and tore it apart along with several occupants. I guess I don't know them personally, but my husband did since this unit works with his unit. He typically focuses on how many safty precautions they take and that he will be okay, or how soon he will come home (only 5 more months-which does feel like forever) so this was a very jarring break for us. Normally I just drink the cool-aide he's pouring because otherwise I just can't get through the day.

The slap in the face came at a children's store later in the afternoon where the two men behind me in line are talking about a young man they know and his deliberations for his future and the older of the two comments, "of course, he'd never consider the army, they're all just cannon fodder" wishing I could toss him into a cannon I turned around "My husband is 'cannon fodder' in Iraq right now, and I'd appreciate if you could finish your discussion after I'm gone" I got all choked up that point, but wish I could have gotten out that everyone over there is someone's parent, friend, boyfriend, partner, or at very least, someone's child. This isn't some science fiction 'clone war' and everyone's a real person with people back at home praying for thier safe return. There's no athiests on the home front either.

Obviously I need to see my therapist more often....

My heart goes out to everyone here and everyone there. Gd bless.

LovingLeanna said...

I have so many family members that have been in wars and that have been through Hell in those wars. My grandfather, whom I never met, fought in WW2 and he was captured by the Japanese and was in a POW camp for months. My uncle was in Vietnam and when he came back, he was never the same. He got mixed up into bad things and was inevitably and sadly murdered because of these things. My cousin is in Iraq right now fighting for everybody. And three of my friends are being deployed in July. I may not know the experiences of war and what they do to the person that fought in them, but I do know what it is like on a family member or friend of those people. And I agree that we give too much credit to other people (celebrities) here in America, but there are plenty Americans that would do anything just to have their friends and family back. That is impossible, I know, but I want to say that most of us support the soldiers and we would do anything to help. You cannot judge the entire country because of the media or because of a few select groups of people that willingly stand up and spit on the troops. You cannot do this because you don't know all of us Americans. I have always and will always support the men and women that have decided to put their lives on the line so we can have freedom. Thank you all.

Anonymous said...


A very powerful, moving Memorial Day post. My sincere appreciation to you and all who are putting your all on the line for us.

Thank you for presenting the reality of what you're doing. Outstanding writing, extraordinary voice. Be safe.

Anonymous said...

During Vietnam war, I kept in touch with many of my high school friends and lost touch with quite a few. After awhile, found out who lost their lives 'over there'. Now, see my own grown daughters worrying about their friends fighting overseas; never wished or thought we would share this type of experience. As one said---guess war is more than history books show us.

Anonymous said...

I was in combat 41 years ago in Nam. A different war in a different era but warriors never change. We all feel the lonliness, the loss of comrades and the hell that is war. Combat changes all of us regardless how we fight against it. It takes away our youth and makes us centuries older than we were before the first shot was fired. Our minds are indelibly and indefinately scarred with sights and sounds and smells not meant for human consumption. The one thing that doesn't change in us is our desire to be home with our families and at peace with our souls. I was in Nam 41 years ago but only 41 seconds ago in my mind. It never leaves me as Iraq will now forever be in your memories. I am proud to have such memories for I can call myself a warrior who did what I had to do to protect my comrades and help them come home with me. Politicians start the wars and we fight them, seeing the foolishness our youths die for and then get snubbed by our "peace freaks". There are many warriors who today would be glad to trade places with you if we could and lacking that ability, give you our hearts and prayers and tears of both pride for the legacy you continue and sorrow for the losses you sustain. You are not alone, we fight with you in spirit and we support you in every way.

Semper Fi Alex and all the troops on the battle fields.

themorethingschange... said...

Do you remember your first kiss? I do. Like it was yesterday. Every word he said, what he wore, where we were. And I remember the day in college when I got word that he was dead. October 1965.

He'd called from his University in So Cal a couple of years earlier, said he was going to Vietnam. Army. Following in his father's footsteps.

The chopper he was in was shot down and the official story is "killed while missing", found three days later.

Butch Gilliam. Class clown, Lompoc HS 1962. Great kisser. Followed in his father's footsteps, all the way to heaven.

JB said...

Joey came home from Iraq only to become a casualty of war several months later by his own hand. Pat came home in body but not in spirit. The smiling, caring person he was when he left has never returned. Wayne left his soul in Baghdad and has buried his body in the bottle. Everyone I know that has gone over there, in one way or another has never returned.

Anonymous said...

=====> Alex - Sent this to you directly yesterday when the link to comments was not working.///

A day does not go by in my life that I do not think about the men who fell beside me in two tours in Vietnam. 35 in all, 21 on one day in July, 1968, when we were ambushed in the southwestern end of Dodge City in Quang Nam Province southwest of Danang. Memorial Day and Veterans Day really bring it home to me and at least on Veterans Day, I visit them at the Wall in Washington.

I grew up in a family and a town with a strong citizen soldier tradition. My grandfather and his brothers fought in WWI. My father and his brothers fought in WWII. My dad was a rifle platoon leader in the Bulge; both of his brothers were killed in action in Europe. In the very small town (about 2,000 people) where I grew up, there are 33 names of the fallen on the WWII memorial in the park in the town square. Three familes lost two sons each. There was not a single family in that town whose life and history were not idelibly touched by the war.

Every day of my life I think about these men and those that fought and died with me in Vietnam and wonder what they would be like now, what they would have accomplished. Later in his life, before Alzheimer's robbed him of his dignity and his soul, my father wondered aloud whether it was all worth it. When I am in doubt about the worth of these men's lives in the causes for which they died, I am reminded of Lincoln's letter during the Civil War to the mother who had lost 5 sons in which he honored her for having laid "such a costly sacrifice on the alter of freedom".

For those of us who have been there, done that, we know that in a firefight, you fight for the men on your right and your left, and they for you. That's how you survive. In the end, though, they lived free and died well for all of us.

Jackelopette said...

I was at the 3-2 memorial statue at Ft. Lewis this afternoon, getting ready for my guy to deploy (far too soon), and found Chevy's name. I thought of you and your blog, and wanted to let you know. Thanks.

Maggy said...

I spent hours in front of the 3-2 memorial on Lewis August 6th. It's my own personal memorial day. Jake 'Tommy' Thompson, Nick Gummersall, Juan Alcantara, and Kareem Khan were lost together that day. And then exactly a year later, Scottie Marin joined them by his own hand.

I miss them everyday. None of my 'lost boys' the newbies who worked their way around my kitchen table for years I've ever forgotten. I was a new bride, and barely older then they were. But I mommy'ed them the best that I could. Some never came home, some PCS'd, some got out, some were just never the same...

But a little piece of my heart is with each of them.

-A Former 1/23 wife, friend and 'surrogate mommy'