This Memorial Day, rather than casting my mind over the almost incomprehensible history of sacrifice our nation has known, I will focus on four veterans whose unique expression of service has inspired me in some special way.
I never met Maj. Dwayne Kelley, but he served with my brother during Operation Iraqi Freedom in the Baghdad "sandbox." Maj. Kelley gave the full measure of devotion on June 24, 2008, during a routine operation as an officer of the 432nd Civil Affairs charged with reconstruction and stabilization of the region; it was his third deployment. As my brother's commanding officer, he played a part in ensuring his safety, and that's a lot to be grateful for.
Cpt. Jeffrey Hayes served in Vietnam until his moral convictions against violence prevented further service; he was honorably discharged in accordance with a conscientious objector status. Jeffrey spent the rest of his life promoting peace through teaching. He became a mentor to me and many others, using a wry humor and profound creative insight to help others expand their perspective without jumping the gun, to "read the picture" before analyzing it.
Jeffrey died on June 18, 2012; I hope he knew how much he meant to me.
President John Fitzgerald Kennedy lived and died before I was born, but his remarkable service inspires many people today, including me. Before he ever held elected office, Kennedy became a navy hero when he saved the lives of his PT-109 crew following a collision with a Japanese destroyer. He led his men to shore, even hauling one man through the water by clenching a strap in his teeth. The trauma of his service exacerbated a childhood back complaint, leaving him virtually crippled for the rest of his life.
He gave the full measure of devotion as a civilian when he was struck down by a pathetic malcontent. Like Lincoln, he belongs to the ages, and his legacy of prudence, empathy, and leadership lives on.
Spc. William Knaapen signed up for the Army before he even graduated high school - he just couldn't wait. Will wanted to be a G.I. Joe since we were little, so his early enlistment was no surprise to us. Will served in the 432nd Civil Affairs battalion, dedicated to rebuilding and reconstruction in Iraq.
On his tour of duty as the unit armorer, he kept the men and women of his unit safe with a thoroughness and devotion to duty few people can equal. Will gave up sleep-filled nights, the ability to be around groups of people, and much of his old capacity for happiness in order to serve; he received an honorable discharge, and remains one of the many invisible casualties of the relentless wars of the past thirteen years. I'm glad I still have this guy around; his honorable service, sacrifice, and principled living are a constant force for good in my life.
Who are you remembering in a special way this Memorial Day? Let us know in the comments section.