I understand why people ask me to speak at events like this. I’m an elected official in Woodland that some people identify with the time I spent in Iraq with the Marine Corps.
Yet, these sorts of things are the hardest things that I do as an elected official.
My worst days as Mayor involved the deaths of SSGT Jimmy Arroyave and Highway Patrol Officer Andy Stevens. Giving condolences to family members is not something I am good at…. But all you can do is try.
I was at a Veterans event in Davis when Vince asked me to speak today. Clearly Vince has a memory problem. Two years ago when I was the Veteran’s Day speaker at the Court House I completely lost my composure as I spoke in front of the family of PFC Casillas.
PFC Casillas was a soldier from Arbuckle that was killed in Afghanistan. A hero. Watching his family mourn his loss was not the sort of thing I would wish on anyone. It got me. It got all of those around them.
These things are hard for me. Very hard. I know they are hard for many of you too.
So what makes these things hard?
Clearly we don’t like to see spouses, parents, children, and grandparents suffer a loss. No one wants to see that.
We also think about those people in our lives that have been lost. For me it is Marines and Sailors I served with, People I went to Holy Rosary with, and people I knew of. First Sgt Barnhill, Cpl Seamus Davey, Neil Roberts, SSgt Arroyave, Hector Gimenez, Sgt Major Cottle …we all have our lists.
We also think about missed opportunities. Birthdays, graduations, hugs, dinners, …everything that makes life.
But I think if we all were really honest with ourselves, really honest… we would admit that we are also thankful that it didn’t happen to us. If you are a parent you know what I mean. We all hear about a fatal car accident on the news where our spouse and or kids are going to be driving. We call them and are immediately relieved that it wasn’t my wife or my kids. You still mourn the loss of life but it isn’t our kids.
We don’t want to lose our hugs, our birthdays, our graduations…. Our vacations together.
For you service members that are here you also have to acknowledge some higher power weather it by God or luck or something. We are all here for some reason that has nothing to do with our skills as service members.
For me it was because the Iraqis could not actually put a missile into Camp Commando right before the war started. It was also that I was not on a vehicle that got hit by an IED. For you it might have been that your plane didn’t fly, or you got assigned to a temporary duty, or your number just didn’t come up… but it wasn’t because any one of us was all that good.
We all got a chance to live when others didn’t. Those that didn’t are the ones we honor today.
This cemetery is full of graves for service members killed in combat. I didn’t know any of them. However, I am sure of two things.
First, every single one of them wouldn’t want you to feel sorry for them. They would be far more concerned about the family and situations they left behind. So, since we can’t do much for them it is our responsibility to do something for the families and situations they leave behind. That is how we honor them.
Finally, every single one of the service members that have been put in these graves around us would tell us to enjoy every breath we can. Every breath that we have been so blessed to take. Every hug. Kiss. Graduation. Birthday party. Wedding. Everything. They would also tell us that all of the little silly things that consume so much of our time and energy are wasted.
So today I encourage all of us to honor the memories of the people in these graves by being truly appreciative of the opportunity that has been given us – a little bit more time on this earth to do the things that we didn’t want to lose.
We’ve been given a gift. Let’s use it.