Memorial Day

Tom Pennington

Memorial Day is always a tough one. Don't get me wrong; I love barbeques, beers, brats, bathing suits and all kinds of all stuff that starts with the letter B. Booty. But I always end up thinking about some of the buddies that I had who didn't make it back. The “reason for the season” if I can steal a line from my nephew ole Saint Nick.

Let me tell you about a few of these heroes.

I remember the first time that someone I knew was killed in combat when I was serving in the Marine Corps. It kind of stopped me in my tracks. I didn't know how to respond. I was in my house in Okinawa, Japan. I was throwing a barbecue at my house and had nearly my entire platoon over for drinks and shit. I was only a Lance Corporal. My sergeant got a call on his phone and his face dropped. He told me to turn the radio down. It was my house but the tone was clear. It wasn't an option.

Sergeant Adam Cann was killed in action. Sgt Cann was the first dog handler to be killed in over 30 years. The war wasn't real, I mean really real to me until that point. People that I knew were dying. People that did the same job as me were dying. I didn't know Sgt Cann that well. I did however hear his name almost everyday for 5 years. It was the reason that we trained. We trained for Sgt Cann’s memory. We trained so that we might come back. I had never looked at it that way before.

I found myself in Fallujah, Iraq.

Cpl Dustin Lee was assigned to 3rd Recon Battalion. We had joked around quite a bit and he told me some stories of what he was doing with Recon. I had just gotten to country and had only been there for a few weeks. I was back at Camp Baharia when my three-man kennel received a call that an RPG killed Cpl Lee. My Marines and I rushed to Camp Fallujah to be there for the memorial. Lifting the Cpl Lee’s box and putting it on the helicopter to be returned to his parents is something I will never forget.

I’m fighting back tears.

Cpl Lee’s death brought about changes in how military working dogs are treated. Military members are given greater opportunities to adopt their dogs. In fact, Cpl Lee’s parent’s adopted his dog, Lex. It is an amazing story.

The last story that I will tell you is about my best friend that I had while serving in the Marines. His name was Christopher Diaz. Writing "was" still takes my breath away. Diaz was killed in Afghanistan. But before that happened, he was my golf buddy, a dad, a son, a fiancé, a leader, and one hell of a Marine.

When I got to Okinawa in 2004, Chris was the first dude that I connected with. He liked sports, video games, guns, drinking. On top of that, he was my neighbor. His son was born just 2 months after my daughter. We dressed our kids to go Trick or Treating together. We certified our dogs together. We competed for promotions against each other. We tried to outshoot each other. I would destroy him in NCAA football. He was stupid loyal to UT-El Paso. I would pick Florida State and crush him.

I was on my anniversary trip with my wife when I got a call from one of my former Marines. This Marine had been out for about 6 months. We were now on a first name basis when we spoke. He called. I didn't pick up. He called again. I didn't pick up. He called for a third time in a row and I picked up and said "Jesus bro, what do you want?" "Staff Sergeant." He hadn’t called me Staff Sergeant since he had gotten out. "Yes." "Are you by yourself?" "No, my wife is here. What’s up?" "Staff Sergeant Diaz was killed in Afghanistan last night."

Blank.

No. No way. Chris was one of the best Marines I knew. "What happened" I asked as I choked through the words. "He was stacked up on a house and it blew. He was killed instantly."

Now what?

I’m still waiting for the what. I’m not sure what happens. I’m not sure how to act on Memorial Day. All I know is that I miss Chris. He was a pretty big bastard. But he was my friend. He was the dad of two children. His parents loved him. His brother loved him. He loved beer and all of the above.

When you go out this weekend, which you should., drink a beer or two for these bros. I could tell you many more stories about many more Marines that I knew who were killed. That’s for another time, I guess.

Freedom isn’t free. Liberty has a cost. Some of my friends have paid the ultimate cost. Some of your family or friends have as well. This is America. We are the greatest fucking country in the world. We are the greatest country in the world because men like Adam, Dustin, and Chris had balls of steel.

Semper Fi. Go Jaguars.

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