A funeral for a friend
This came to me via e-mail and I wanted to share it with you all.
The flags you see there are held by the Patriot Guard, a biker organization who are counter protestors against the Westboro Baptist Church. This church believes that God hates America, and is killing soldiers because America defends homosexuals. So they believe going to soldier funerals and calling it a “love crusade” while screaming God hates You and holding up signs that say “GOD HATES HIM” will change things. It would have been a bad day for them if they had shown up. It may sound like empty talk, but I would have brought a new meaning to “An Army of One”.
Carl’s funeral was a sad affair. The Air Force wouldn’t, couldn’t honor him properly. It couldn’t discuss the details that led to this sorry state of affairs. The fact is he wasn’t killed in a crossfire by a M249 SAW like the news reports first said. He was killed by his roommate, in his room, with a 9mm pistol. Him and this nameless fucker didn’t get along, either. So instead of mentioning the monstrous fucking accidental discharge that killed him, the chaplain got up and said a bunch of empty fluff about Carl dying while doing what he loved. I don’t know if the bitch even knew the details, but that’s no excuse. I don’t have a chance to see my friend again, to have a beer with him and share war stories and embarrass him in front of his kids when I tell stories of our youth. I’ll never hear his goofy laugh, or stagger in arm in arm with him in the early hours of the morning, laughing and reeking of booze. The best I can do is tell his children (one 6 months, the other 6 months in the womb) about their father that they’ll never know. I stood there with the other people I knew from my youth and we looked at Carl’s ashen and waxy features, and knew this would be the last time we would see him in this life. Tom, Dan, Josh, Kevin, me. A long minute passed and then I said “Lift not my bloody ground/Nor bear my body home/ For all the earth is Roman earth/And I shall die in Rome. Go with God Carl.” And we left.
I was shaking with rage the entire time because of the Air Force. Their refusal to discuss anything about what happened reeked of bureaucracy. His Colonel seemed pretty greasy to me. When he asked me about if I had been “over there” yet, I pointed at my chest and said “This one is for Iraq. This one is for Afghanistan. This one means I’m Combat Infantry, these mean I’ve been at war for over 24 months. So you can say so, Sir.” He left after that. He was Military Police, and when I told this story to individuals back here, my Company NCOIC told me I should have said “I didn’t fight my war from a TOC, either. So get the fuck off my medals, Sir.” I’m reminded of that scene from Jarhead, when Atticus is accosted by one of the reservists who said he never fought in the first Gulf War. I wanted to grab his squad mates that were there, I wanted to blame them for this happening. I know that there’s a good chance they had nothing to do with it, but…I don’t know. Did they know this guy and Carl were having problems this bad? Did they do anything to stop it? I wanted to slap them and ask them what kind of pogue bullshit this was, that my friend was dead. We stayed away from each other the entire funeral and beyond. I was radiating rage, and I wasn’t going to start anything at the viewing of my friend’s body. If the Air Force couldn’t honor the dead, I would show them how the Paratroopers did it. How warriors, not gussied up pogues with a broussard, would respect who he had become and who he had been. They gave him an AIRCOM, and the chaplain spoke in hushed tones about what an honor it was. I have three of the Army equivalent, and while they’re all for meritorious acts, it’s not the medal you give someone who died in the middle of a combat zone, friendly fucking fire or not. You give them a Bronze Star at least, and you get up there and tell the fucking truth. None of this was done though.
Before they lowered the casket, I left a .50 caliber projectile on his coffin. It stuck out of the bed roses people had laid down, myself included, as we walked past. A shiny bit of brass rounded and shaped to kill someone among all that loveliness. I think he could pay his way into Valhalla with it, if there was such a thing. Regardless, its down in the earth from which it came with him. If anything, this funeral strengthened my resolve to cremated. I’d rather become a part of the air and the sky then be interred in the earth.
The widow, his adoptive parents, and his adoptive brother had all been a part of my life since my first year of high school. We were all friends, all grew up together. I had a falling out with the latter in the last week of high school. We hadn’t talked in four years, and as much as I had liked to think this would be a time to mend bridges, it wasn’t to be. I didn’t say much to Chrissy, his widow, either. Not for lack of trying. She wasn’t catonic or anything, just had nothing to say to me. So I wandered in my Class As, and slammed down beer, after beer, after beer. I lost track at around 12. I worried Uncle Keith with my drinking. Someone told me afterwards he knew I was pissed, and if I went after someone who said the wrong thing, there was no one there who was going to physically be able to stop me. But nothing like that happened. I mingled with people, I talked about what I had done and where I had been and how fucked up everything was, with the Air Force, with the Army, with the war. I didn’t cry for Carl, I shed no tears. My grief is still inside me though, and I can feel it in my chest, waiting to spill out. So I drank more, the handsome man who people remembered as Carl’s fat friend when I was pointed out, and said "Wow, he really dosen't look anything like he used to." I remember being very sad there, and wanting to hit something until I bled and my grief leaked out between broken bloody fingers. It would be all the grief and misery and sadness that had been part of my life for the last four years. It wouldn’t have been for Carl, it would have been for Chrissy, a widow at 23. For Dave, who had lost the man who was his adoptive brother. For his children, orphans of a father they never knew. For myself, for burying the man I named as a friend.
We said our goodbyes after being there an hour. I never mended my bridge with Dave. I did meet back up with Chrissy’s brother, who was a friend of mine, and with her other brother. He was in the Air Force, and I liked the cut of his jib. I hope to see more of Steve in the future. Tom and myself left the wake with Dan, Kevin and Josh. Along the way I got the taste the beer a second time, and ended up vomiting wildly on the highway. Nothing like seeing someone in full dress uniform do spew like he’s possessed.
When we went drinking later that night, Kevin brought up some good points. He said everything that went unsaid. About Chrissy, about how they wouldn’t have noticed if we didn’t show at the wake. About the cold shoulder it seemed we all got. I don’t think it was bad for me was it was for them, but I did notice it. I don’t know what to make of it, except that it was wrong.
I found out a few days ago Chrissy is moving back to Delaware. Dave is getting a separation from his wife and moving in with her. I don’t know why, but it feels wrong. My first response was “Didn’t wait long before putting him in the ground, huh?” I don’t know if Carl’s other friends know, but I’m going to tell them. I hope to God I’m just underestimating Chrissy, and she’s not going to have Dave play surrogate Daddy. We’re not going to let Carl die again. If anything, the five of us will keep him alive in his children, through stories and memories. We can’t be Carl, but we can make sure these kids are raised with his memory in mind.
Everything aside, I found out yesterday the 172nd Stryker Brigade, my unit, has stopped coming home. They’re frozen midway, some of the brigade here, some in Iraq. There’s talk of keeping them there for 15 months, and sending them to Baghdad. I might just say fuck it, re enlist for another job, and take the fucking bonus. I don’t know why, but this appeals to me. God help me, but it seems like I might not be done with soldiering yet. I want to be done. I am so very tired of war, and I don’t want to put my family and friends through what Carl’s went through.
Life in Alaska is alright, if a bit stolid. I spend all day doing a lot of nothing, waiting for my waiver to come through so I can start clearing and be done with the Army. We’ll see how that turns out, but I hope to be gone by next month, God willing.
posted by Steve @ 12:06:00 AM