I’m not shy about the fact that I’ve served in the Air Force. In fact, I’m proud of it. It’s given me a perspective of the world that I would’ve never gotten if I hadn’t joined. That’s why every year I travel to visit the graves of the fallen on Memorial Day, that’s why I take the time out of my day to visit their graves throughout the year, not just on one day.
But I promise you this, what goes through my mind when I walk through those fields is different then what goes through your mind. When I look at those grave markers, inscribed with their name, their rank, and their unit, I see more than you do. The drab markers are picture-less, but when I look at each one, I see a face.
Of course, I don’t see the face of the fallen soldier, but when I see a Sergeant, I see myself. I see the face of my children and my wife and see them growing up without a father. When I see a Staff Sergeant, I see my old supervisor, who only has a few more years until retirement. When I see a Private, I see my old troop, an only child whose life could be cut far to short. I see the faces of their parents, their children, their brothers, their sisters, their wives, I see them all and how the world would be different without them.
I see a black hearse driving down the street at Dyess, both sides of the road lined with Airman, saluting their brother one last time as his parents take what’s left of him. I cried that day, and I cry as I walk through the fields where my brothers and sisters are buried.
I get angry when I see kids playing in these fields, but I keep my mouth shut because its not the place. I am barely worthy to walk on the grounds where these heroes are laid to rest, I’m not even close to worthy enough to cause a disturbance on their hallowed ground.
I’ve been to Normandy when I was stationed in Ramstein. I stood atop the cliff overlooking the ocean where those heroes landed. The water that ran red with their blood. I saw the kids playing on the beach but didn’t even deem myself worthy to set foot on the sand.
Trust me when I say if you never served you don’t understand. You can’t look at the marker and see the face that you served with, the reasons that they joined, the family that they have, and what they have to lose. You don’t look at that marker and see the full cost of war.
I was lucky to never have a brother or sister that I served with directly give their life. I was lucky to never have seen combat. I might’ve been in the Air Force, but I was a mechanic, not a desk jockey. I know those that saw combat, I know those that lost friends. I know what the cost of war is, and I know what another major war like those fought in Europe would cost. I can see the cost, I can feel it when I walk through those fields.
So, don’t tell me you understand, just like I’ll never tell a brother that lost a friend that I understand. I don’t see his face on each gravemarker. I don’t see his wife and kids, his brother or his sister. I don’t understand and neither do you.