While I’ve always appreciated military service and been proud to be an American, the reality of those who have given their lives so I can enjoy the life I live didn’t become strong until my younger brother enlisted in the Army. He spent his years of service as a guard at The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery. He was honored to pay respect to the men and woman who gave the ultimate sacrifice—especially those who remain nameless. Even though his service ended four years ago, our family is still greatly impacted by that season of his life. This past fall, one of the men he served at the Tomb with was killed in action in Afghanistan. The reality of what Memorial Day stands for is so much greater to me because of this.
In honor of those who have given their lives, I thought I would share a short editorial I wrote in September of 2003 about my brother’s choice to join the army. I’m sure his thoughts and emotions described in it represent those of so many who have gone before and after him.
“I need a reason for everything I do,” my 19 year-old-brother told me five months ago. “Why should this time be any different?”
As Michael said goodbye to me on August 30, he reminded me of his reason for joining the Army. “I’ll defend your freedom, Little Sister,” he told me as I stood there, looking up at his 6-foot-1 frame, tears tugging at an older sister’s heart. “I want to make a difference in the world.”
“Thank you, Little Brother,” was all I could say.
Until the past few months, my awareness of the military was almost nonexistent. Thanks to September 11, 2001, I could say that I’m proud to be an American. But beyond that, I easily went about my days giving little thought to the country I am fortunate enough to live in.
When the war in Iraq started, Michael began talking about joining the Army. I didn’t take him very seriously at first, thinking he couldn’t commit to something as big as putting his life on the line. But in mid-April he filled out the necessary paperwork to enlist and then gave me the pen he signed them with. Because he doesn’t do anything halfheartedly, he told me: “I don’t want to just be in the Army. I want to do Special Forces. For now, though, I’m looking at the Rangers.”
The Army scheduled him for delayed entry. Basic training would be at Fort Benning in Georgia and, immediately after that, jump school for Airborne Infantry. In the months we waited for his departure, news flashes caught my eyes and ears. No longer were unknown men and women willing to die for their country. It became someone’s brother, sister, son, daughter or friend. It could be my brother someday.
While hearing the national anthem sung one day not long ago, I became emotional. My brother wants to help allow that song to be true. He could someday watch our flag wave by the dawn’s early light. He could someday see the bombs bursting in air.
A friend in the Army once told me he owns a piece of the flag because he fought for it. I understand now that I see my brother willing to die for it.
Michael has to have a reason for doing this. I am only one of those millions of reasons.