Safe and Free
I hold in my hand a glossy DVD case embossed with a gently waving American flag. The flag frames a photo of a Chinook helicopter hovering in the sky. The title on the case reads, "Memorial Service, 21 February 2007, Fort Campbell, Kentucky . . . Bravo Company, 160th Special Operations, Airborne."
This DVD was given to me by the grandmother of one of the young men remembered in the memorial service. She is a fellow pilgrim in the journey with Jesus at the top of Poplar. I will always remember going to her house upon learning her grandson had been killed in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan. There were no magic, preacherly words to say, to make everything better, just an offering of shared anguish and of tears.
It's been four years since that terrible night in the desert but my friend’s tears still flow as she watches the video of the memorial service. I carried the DVD around with me for a week before I could bring myself to watch it. I didn't want to confront the costs of war in such a direct, personal way.
The Memorial Service for these five Night Stalkers--a night flying unit that delivers special op soldiers--was profoundly moving. Fellow soldiers offered tributes to their fallen comrades, one-by-one. These ramrod straight warriors in their green uniforms with colorful emblems on their chests, stood quivering, Kleenex in hand, sniffling and fighting tears, as they told personal stories about the precious lives lost. These fallen comrades in arms were not just soldiers, still less statistics. They were beloved husbands, devoted sons, doting fathers, and faithful friends. The photos of these once vibrant souls cradling their babies or with their sweethearts, bright-eyed and beaming at their sides, broke my heart.
Because these five Night Stalkers performed with skill and valor, fighting to keep their doomed aircraft aloft, 14 servicemen survived the crash. Thus, in the truest sense, these men embodied Jesus' words, "Greater love has no man than this that he lay down his life for his friends."
As to whether the sacrifice of these lives and so many more in Afghanistan and Iraq, was "worth" what has been won in those far flung field of battles, I don't profess to know. It's easy to say "of course," in the abstract. Harder when you confront that jagged, forever empty place in your heart where a precious grandson, so full of life and promise, used to be.
All I know is that when I and my fellow Americans fire up our grills for Memorial Day, the least we can do is pause, remember, and thank God for those who sacrificed everything trying to keep other people's grandsons, in both America and Afghanistan, safe and free.