It seems that the winds of war are blowing across the world once again, a gathering storm somewhere just beyond the horizon.
I wanted to write a few words in remembrance of the fallen on this Memorial Day, they who sacrificed everything in the name of God, country, and flag, defending God-given, enduring freedom in other wars, in fields and beaches far away; a stern reminder that freedom carries a price.
When I sat down to write, I remembered Marshall.
He was my friend.
Marshall was tall and skinny, with a bit of acne here and there, nerdy before the word was invented.
The kind of kid that lurked in the dim fog of high school anonymity, Marshall was a good friend. Ours was the sort of friendship that would beat all odds and not fade somewhere after graduation day, but would last forever.
I remember when Marshall kissed his first girl, the first time we double dated.
I remember what he wore to the prom on our Senior year.
I remember when we took the van to the lake with Laura Thompson and Becky Jo. I’ve long forgotten Becky Jo’s last name, but I remember she smelled of roses, and how she looked in the light of a new-born day.
I remember the night we discovered it wasn’t such a good idea to mix cheap vodka with Gatorade.
I remember that we both once loved the same girl.
I remember how ridiculous Marshall looked the first time I saw him in his ROTC uniform. My longhaired, unkempt jeans, Led Zeppelin T-shirt, grungy-before-the-word-was-invented self mercilessly and relentlessly reminded Marshall how goofy he looked in his crew cut and spotless uniform.
Marshall played the dumbest instrument in our high school marching band, the bass drum, while I played the trumpet. I would blow the high notes and soar above the music like a metallic songbird, high and unfettered, above the bodies marching in locked step, and somewhere below the heavens.
All this while Marshall just boom-boom-boomed dull and steady right below.
As I sat and wrote down these words, I wondered what Marshall might have doing in this war, how far he might have climbed in rank. And I wondered how he would look at my age. Is middle-age girth inevitable or is it the 10,000 Dunkin Donuts and 15 sit-ups over the last score and seven years?
I wondered if our kids would have been friends, but then I realized he probably wouldn’t have waited until nearly his fortieth birthday to have them. I wondered what his kids would look like; tall and skinny with a bit of acne, awkward and nerdy and self-conscious in their ROTC uniform, like Marshall the day he left for basic training.
That image is indelibly inscribed in my memory; a lanky, nerdy, pimply-faced kid, looking so small and out of place in a man’s uniform.
I didn’t get a chance to see Marshall the day he left for camp, but we talked on the phone the night before. We talked about getting together when he got back and planned a celebration that would put that night with the Gatorade, the cheap vodka and the pretty girls to shame.
Marshall died when his training flight crashed somewhere in the southwest desert. But the memories of our youth and friendship endure undiminished despite the passage of time.
So to honor and remember the valiant dead, I honor and remember my friend Marshall. To me, he represents the very best of us, as do all the valiant boys and men, heroes all, gone, but never forgotten.
When our troops enter the fray in a distant desert, Marshall will be with them, I know it.
He’ll be right there, leading the vast avenging host of fallen heroes. Somewhere in the clouds, far above the smoke and thunder of the battlefield, and just below heaven, BOOM-BOOM-BOOMING away on his big war drum.
From Lexington, Concord and Valley Forge. From Antietam, Cold Harbor, Bellau Wood, Cantigny, and Normandy Beach. From the sands of Iwo Jima, to Inchon, Khe Sanh, Kuwait City, Mogadishu and Kabul, their souls will heed the call to duty. From the green grass of Gettysburg to the poppy fields of Flanders, their spirits will awaken to the sound of a drum calling them to battle once more.
BOOM-BOOM-BOOMING away, unyielding and steady as a rock.
BOOM-BOOM-BOOMING away from somewhere above a formation of metallic birds, beautiful and terrifying to behold, their guns shrieking like trumpet blasts, flying high above the American thunder of the iron horses far below.
BOOM-BOOM-BOOMING the way right into the pages of history.
BOOM-BOOM-BOOMING away, relentlessly and mercilessly.
BOOM-BOOM-BOOMING the way to victory, and everlasting glory beyond.