The two spouses were members of an Explosive Ordinance Disposal unit – the folks who go out to defuse or destroy munitions their adversaries have left to cause death and other damage to passers by.
But the last line of the news story was hardest.
“And when I receive a condolence letter from a high-ranking government official that says, ‘Mrs. Voelz, we’re sorry for the loss of your husband,’ it just makes it seem like nobody knows we exist.”
Mrs. Voelz was the one who died; it was her husband who received the letter.
The couple met in EOD school, married and deployed to Iraq. One night, it fell to Max to send his wife, Kim, to disarm an explosive. The bomb went off. Kim survived long enough for Max to be at the hospital, holding her hand as she died.
I often decry war. I read a long time ago that fighting never proves who is right or wrong, only who’s left.
But as long as there are people in the world who want to use force to take what they want from other people, we need police departments – in our home communities and in the rest of the world.
I remember where I was Sept. 11, 2001, working as a reporter for the Gettysburg Times. My wife called to tell me an airplane had crashed into one of the World Trade Center towers.
My first reaction was that someone had badly messed up. I have some flight experience, as a private pilot and as a U.S. Navy aircrewman. I knew the towers stuck way up in the air over the lower end of Manhattan, and I knew the skies around there are super crowded. I also knew a passenger jet had no business being below 1,000 feet in that part of the sky.
Then, as I was crossing the street toward my assignment at the county courthouse, she called again. A second plane had crashed into the other tower, and another into the Pentagon. I didn’t know who had violated us, but clearly it was no accident.
“I know deep down in places you don’t talk about at parties, you want me on that wall. You need me on that wall,” Col. Nathan R. Jessup (played by Jack Nicholson), said in the 1992 movie “A Few Good Men.”
Col. Jessup was a Marine with some unorthodox disciplinary practices that, for some men, ended in their deaths, but he was right about one thing: we do want him on that wall.
On a photo excursion Saturday in Washington, D.C., our guide took us to the Vietnam War Memorial, and I saw for the first time the Three Servicemen Statue, facing the marble wall. There are numerous interpretations of the facial expressions on the three men; to me they looked to be materializing from the jungle to find their own names on the list of more than 58,000 warriors sacrificed in the jungles of Southeast Asia.
A short distance away, the Korean War Memorial features a ghost platoon of shell-shocked young men anxiously alert for as yet undiscovered enemy.
War is like that. Soldiers follow orders while civilians back home decide what the orders will be.
Our excursion guide said the predominant age of a military person is 18-25. I’ve been there, and it’s true. At 18, it was exciting and, when I was 18, it was the duty of every red-blooded American male.
Like local police whose job is to enforce laws they do not make, our military members have, in the past 235 years of our nations existence, done their best to follow orders rendered by civilians back home to keep us safe in our daily efforts. For many, that has meant what is over-referred to as “the supreme sacrifice.” For many more, it will continue to mean sacrificing their lives so we might enjoy ours.
It means Christmases and Thanksgivings away from home. It means missing children being born, and then missed birthdays and graduations and weddings.
It means young men and women taking on responsibilities that, in the civilian world, would have their job applications circular filed because of their inexperience. But they launch multi-million dollar warbirds from the decks of aircraft carriers, and maintain nuclear engines and on undersea missile platforms.
They jump from helicopters into angry seas to save the lives of their comrades or civilian sailors whose small craft have succumbed to big storms.
They gather their trunks and trucks and head off to disaster-stricken places such as New Orleans and Joplin.
And sometimes, they get dead, accidentally while serving their countrymen, or shot or blown up by a human enemy in a foreign land.
Today, as we put our flags out to remind each other that we are Americans, as we gather in family picnics and fun times on sandy and concrete beaches, as we watch the evening news with its depictions of one narcissistic star and would-be star following another, let’s take a few minutes to remember the names of those we know who have at least offered to sacrifice themselves on the altar of freedom.
Call a dad or brother or neighbor down the street and thank them for their offering. Thank and honor them personally, even if only in a moment of personal reflection.
Let them know we know they exist.
Photo by John Messeder
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