The first time we lost a brother or sister in arms was during the first Gulf War, and we didn’t get the news from the chain of command, we got it from CNN. The name of an Airman who had been in Tom’s command about five or six years before came up on the screen in our living room and we stopped cold. Our kids were small, but they knew something was up, and when we stopped cold, so did they. The whole family fell silent, and then we all looked at Tom. “God-damnit. He was a good man. I better write to his wife.”
Since then, there have been other losses, more letters, and eulogies delivered for people who served in the military with Tom and on medical flight crews with me. Lifeflight is a dangerous occupation. Most of the plane crashes with fatalities in the US are medical transport flights. I’ve narrowly escaped death a couple of times doing the job I excelled at for fifteen years, before moving to the lab and working traumas from the secondary and tertiary response level.
Every hospital I ever worked in or flew out of had a corridor to the helipad that was lined with silent sentries — the portraits of crewmembers who had been killed in the line of duty when the helo they were on crashed. Most people don’t realize that, like the military, you get a service portrait when you make a crew, and you get it for the same reason. If you die in the line of duty, it will be atop your closed coffin.
Yet there are people who do the job, who are willing to take the risks, because if they didn’t, people would die.
All around you there are people who step up for you, who are willing to die for you. Indeed, some do. Some of them serve in the military. Others serve in police departments and fire departments and on ambulance crews and in emergency rooms.
Remember them, too, on this day.
Very few people who haven’t been to basic training or served in a job that displayed colors know the proper protocol for Memorial Day or the reasons for it, but it isn’t secret like Masonic Rites, so I am going to share it.
On Memorial Day, like any other, we briskly raise the flag to full mast, but then we lower it, and it flies at half-staff, but only until noon. At noon, we raise it back to full staff. In the morning we remember, in the afternoon we resolve to live lives that are worthy of the sacrifice of those who gave theirs for us and in our stead. That second part often get’s overlooked in favor of barbecues and pool parties. Which, as my husband says, is “how you break a veteran’s heart.”