A Memory on Memorial Day

Memorial Day implores us to remember fallen soldiers. And we shall. Yet that remembrance will always be incomplete, because a life lost is a tragedy worsened by the silence it creates. Dead soldiers cannot tell us their stories. They cannot recount the details of their final moments, nor the thoughts that coincided. We cannot know if they sensed fear, shock, anger, surrender, loneliness, relief, all of these, none of these. Which loved ones warmed their hearts before the cold settled in? Which enemies tortured their minds before oblivion? We shall not know.

Surviving soldiers can share their stories. Death lives in these tales too. It’s depravity damages all sides in war. It can settle into the mind even when the body endures. It haunts. On Memorial Day, let us remember that. 

Born and raised in Ohio, Sergeant Rogers has been in the US Army for over 26 years, first on active duty, and then as both a member of the Reserve and as a civilian unit administrator. His father was in the Army for over three decades, and he would be happy to see his 14-year-old daughter join the military too (though preferably Air Force over Army). I am keeping Rogers’s real name and location private, as per his request. I only regret that I cannot name the stunning surroundings of his duty location. I will say this: there is a beauty particular to an industrial landscape. It is the antithesis of natural scenery, yet commands a glory no less. It is perhaps offensive to environmental sensibilities, yet nostalgic of days passed. A rugged river runs through, watering not trees but grand towers of steel and smoking stacks. Like Roger’s story, it is a past that Ohio cannot shed.

Rogers was deployed more than once during his career, the latest time to Iraq as a medic. For nearly an hour, he spoke to me of those deployments in fond terms, demonstrating a sense of pride in a duty fulfilled. Only in the last moments of our conversation did he begin to hint at that which haunts. This was Sergeant Rogers’s story:

I experienced a man dying in my arms. He was Iraqi, but they were all just people. I still see his face every night, and it’s hard to get to sleep sometimes. That led me to drinking. I’m trying to quit. I haven’t had a drink in 23 days. You see, the other medics were asking him personal questions. And I’ll never forget the answers. “Six daughters.” He had six daughters, all under 14 years old. 

It was a negligent fire incident. It was meant to be a warning shot. As far as I’m concerned, we murdered him. Those personal questions… it was alright until then. 50-caliber, hit the ground, recoiled so the second round went straight through the vehicle. I drank a lot, just to sleep. Some people go the VA or Army, they say you have PTSD. With my position here, if I told an Army psychologist, I’d get graded a three as a psychological, so I wouldn’t be able to keep both jobs.

We were on a convoy in a very dangerous area near Baghdad. We got caught in a traffic jam. Horrible to be sitting duck, everybody’s nervous. The two Iraqis in the vehicle, maybe had brake problems. The kid fired warning shot which he wasn’t supposed to do. One guy in the vehicle survived, but lost his arm. The other shot that hit the ground went up through the vehicle into his groin. We weren’t supposed to fire ANY warning shots. 

I knew he was going to die. Not a day goes by though, I think “what more could I have done?” Maybe that is the medic in me. Maybe if I tried harder. But really, the energy of a 50-caliber, going through the groin and out the arms. Everything would be hamburger in between. It was amazing he was even answering those questions. 

Thank you for sharing, Sergeant Rogers.

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