Many years ago, when I was going through Officer Candidate School, we had the opportunity to interact with some of the combat veteran Captains going through the Captain’s career course. During the question and answer portion, one of the candidates asked, “What does it feel like to lose a Soldier?”
The Captains looked at each other, and sidelined the question, as how do you answer such a deeply personal question? There really is nothing you can do to prepare for loss, and the only thing you can do is cope and move forward. But unless you are a sociopath, you will have to deal with those feelings as best you can.
I’ve never lost a Soldier under my direct command in combat, but I have lost a Soldier due to suicide and I’ve lost former Soldiers when they were following other Officers. It doesn’t help either way, you feel the same loss at each death.
Yesterday, my Grandfather was laid to rest in a national cemetery. His service with the US Navy during the Korean war era was voluntary. He met my Grandmother at a dance, and that led to 63 years of marriage before he went to sleep on his easy chair, and drifted off into eternity. Grandfather now rests one section over from one of my Soldiers who passed on, due to a command wire IED in Zabul province, Afghanistan.
I wish that my words here could help someone through their own grieving process, or that maybe they would bring some comfort to someone else. Either way, a man who is younger than my youngest sibling, and my Grandfather, now share the ground with men and women, and family members of the military, from WWI until the War on Terror. The cemetary is a peaceful place, and I hope that all the other families of departed veterans can find some semblance of peace when those who spent a portion of their life in service are laid to rest surrounded by others who made the same choice.
Those of us still living, those of us still serving, will eventually have to pass the torch of freedom on to a younger generation. And like the torch was passed to us, we must trust that it will not be extinguished on our replacements watch. Those of us who managed to come home, carry forward the memories and hopes of the fallen, until the day that we can no longer go forward. On that day, someone else must carry our hope forward into the future. May God comfort those who have gone on to rest, and those of us who grieve them.