Friday, May 22, 2009

And Now This Day Is Yours

I know that a lot of folks use Memorial Day as a day to honor all service members, but that's not really what it is. It was started as a day to honor the dead; those who gave their all for this great republic. I've often spent this day as a living symbol of those who have gone before me. Parades, memorials, ceremonies; I've accepted the thanks of grateful people... but it wasn't for me. It wasn't my day.

I've gazed upon the graves of soldiers lost in the Civil War and wondered about them. I've seen the photos from the Civil War, WW-I, WW-II, Korea, Vietnam, Iran, Beirut, Grenada, Panama, Kuwait, Iraq; photos of the anonymous dead who symbolize all of the dead of each of those conflicts. So hard to personalize beyond the abstract... they were, "the other guy." They weren't like me. I was the survivor, the one it wouldn't happen to. Memorial Day was their day.

I have two brothers who are significantly older than myself. One, since passed, spent a career in the Army and a tour in Vietnam that forever changed him and may have ultimately led to his loss at a young age. My other brother was in ROTC for a spell in college. He eventually went on to a doctorate, but one of his closest friends was also in ROTC, accepting his commission when I was fairly young; perhaps seven or so. His name was Bob Rice.

Before he went to Vietnam, we went to what was, at the time, Cincinnati's amusement park, Coney Island. Since replaced by Kings Island, I remember it to be pretty cool. I thought Bob and my brother were the coolest things going. I was in awe of Bob, the strong young man who carried me around on his shoulders that day and accompanied me on the roller coasters I was tall enough to ride.

I never saw him again after that day. 1LT Robert Thomas Rice, Jr., 23, of Springfield, Ohio, was killed near Pleiku, RVN, on August 8, 1970. He was in B Co, 2nd Bn, 8th Infantry of the 4th Infantry Division. He was awarded a Silver Star. For me, he and my brother were the face of the Vietnam War.

Memorial Day is his day.

Many years later, I met a man who seemed to be liked by all who met him. He was fairly soft-spoken and calm. He carried an air of self assurance and common sense, and, like me, he loved to play golf and was just as much an amateur. We became fast friends. He was prior service Marine Corps and Army, and pined for an opportunity to do his part in this war. He had been turned away by recruiters who didn't want to make the effort to go through the medical review process his back injury would have required. They preferred the low-hanging fruit. Jon Stiles would not be deterred.

He fought his way through bureaucracies across state lines, and eventually got back in, joining the Colorado Army National Guard. When their scheduled deployment was delayed, he found an open position with a unit from Louisiana and actually transferred across state lines to make sure that he wasn't left behind.

Last November, Jon saw a suspicious vehicle approaching his Route Clearing Team of Engineers in Jalalabad. Sensing danger to his team, Jon went through his escalation of force measures and wound up engaging the vehicle with his M-240B machine gun. The vehicle-borne explosive device detonated and Jon caught a facefull of the blast and fragmentation. He was knocked unconscious immediately, and SGT Jon Stiles, 38, of Highlands Ranch, Colorado, died in the helicopter on the way to the hospital of head and neck wounds. Numerous Afghan civilians were killed, but Jon was the only American casualty. He couldn't prevent the civilian carnage, but he forced the bomber to detonate prematurely, saving his buddies from the blast. He was awarded a Bronze Star for valor for an action the previous month in which he pulled soldiers from a burning vehicle after a similar attack. He had declined medical leave for his wounds from that day which would have had him at home on the day he met his fate.

Jon joins the ranks of such men as Bob Rice in the ranks of our hallowed dead. This is his first Memorial Day, a day that he earned with his sacrifice on that dusty road in Afghanistan. I can barely remember Bob Rice's face these many years later, but I can still see Jon's, and I can still hear his voice and his laughter.

I will spend part of this Memorial Day in uniform, standing in for Bob and Jon at a ceremony at a school, symbolizing those who are the very fabric of the red stripes in the flag. It's not my day, though. It belongs to so many men just like Bob Rice.

And now, Jon, this day is yours.


CJ put up this post, a tribute to 1LT Schulte, killed recently in Afghanistan.


  1. Bob Rice and Jon Stiles will be remembered on this, "Memorial Day", and every day thereafter. They, as well as the thousands upon thousands of their brothers and sisters will be remembered and thanked. We, as a grateful nation cannot forget their dedication to follow their chosen path nor their ultimate sacrifice. We must not forget...

    btw, you were wrong, this did make me cry.

  2. Well Said my friend, well said. Great minds think alike and somehow, so do we.

  3. Although I am not American, your fallen heroes are mine, too. I will always remember and honour them. With gratitude and humility.

  4. It may be Sunday and not the "official" Memorial Day, but I'm saying THANK YOU today.

    Please know that EACH ONE of you is thought of often and you are more appreciated than you know.

    So please pass along this THANK YOU to each and every one over there.

    Stay safe, stay well, come home soon. You are missed.

  5. I remember you writing about Jon Stiles, and thank you for sharing Bob Rice. We shall keep their families in our prayers. Thank you also for standing in their sted. Have a nice Memorial Day.

  6. With sincere humility and heartfelt appreciation, I bow my head in honor of these fine men, and all the others whom I hope to someday meet in the place that is truly worthy of them.
    God bless the families, and Semper Fi.

  7. Sadly on Tuesday morning, while you guys were (technically) still on memorial day, a convoy from the Panjshir PRT was on its way to BAF and got hit by a VBIED near Mahmoud-i-Raqi.

    Three military (including the PRT commander), 1 civilian, and at least 4 local nationals were killed. AP stated that HiG took responsibility and claimed that the Kapisa PRT commander had been killed. You can probably draw some conclusions of your own from that.


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