Four years ago this Memorial Day I was home on leave from my Iraq deployment. I was still recovering from my jet lag but overjoyed to see my wife and kids after many months away. My son turned on the TV to catch the beginning of a NASCAR race and from a different room I heard the sounds of “Amazing Grace” on the bagpipes. NASCAR was honoring our fallen.
The song stopped me in my tracks. In our deployment I’d already heard those bagpipes too many times, played for friends — for brothers-in-arms — who’d fallen in our fight against al-Qaeda in Iraq. I heard the bagpipes again when I went back downrange and again when I came home. Each time honoring a man that I knew, a friend whose face I can see to this day.
Last summer, I gathered with my fellow officers from Sabre Squadron, 2/3 ACR, for a charity golf tournament and weekend of events to honor the life of Captain Mike Medders, who lost his life to an al-Qaeda suicide bomber in September 2008. Over the course of the weekend we shared stories about Iraq, stories about Mike, and raised money for his foundation. The weekend culminated in a party at his sister’s house. The place was packed, with friends and family filling the home and spilling outside into the driveway and yard. It was a festive gathering — just as Mike would have liked.
Then we heard the bagpipes. A neighbor had walked down the street, stood on the sidewalk in front of the house, and with his own bagpipes began playing “Amazing Grace” virtually unseen in the darkness. Immediately, all conversation stopped. Everyone was completely still. Everyone remembered. He played through each verse and then, without a word, turned and marched home. It was one of the most meaningful and beautiful moments I’ve ever witnessed.
On this Memorial Day, we honor all our fallen. These are the men that I knew: MAJ Andrew Olmstead, CPT Thomas Casey, SGT Corey Spates, CPT Torre Mallard, SGT Phillip Anderson, SPC Donald Burkett, Mr. Albert Haroutounian, SGT Gregory Unruh, SPC Matthew Morris, CPT Ulises Burgos, SPC Andre Mitchell, and CPT Michael Medders.
May God grant you everlasting rest. And may God comfort your families with the knowledge that you lived and died serving others. As my friend, First Sergeant James Adcock, told Stars and Stripes: “They all need to be remembered, but the guys who served with them are never going to forget, and that’s what’s important.”