I didn’t want to be a weenie and cry, but I was certain the Navy would be the death of him.
My oldest brother Jon was safe and sound, about to start his senior year at UVA. But my other brother Joe–just having graduated from high school in 1996–got a wild hair to join the Navy. The Gulf War had ended a mere five years earlier and tensions in the Middle East were as strained as an overloaded camel. I was terrified when he revealed his plans.
Joe and I had only been on speaking terms for the past two years. Before high school I was just an annoying little brat. But once I entered his domain he morphed into the protective older brother of which I’d always dreamed. By the time he graduated, the two of us went together like peas and carrots.
Still, I had to play it cool during the car ride that would rip Joe from my life. When we got to the Recruiter’s office, I wanted to punch the jovial officer in the face. Instead I restrained myself and my parents and I said our goodbyes. The thirty minute drive home was nothing but road noise and tears plopping on my lap.
My terror waned slightly as Joe graduated from Nuclear Power School and was assigned to the USS Abraham Lincoln instead of a submarine. I’d seen The Hunt for Red October one too many times and a deep ocean trench was the last place I wanted my brother to spend his final moments. As you might imagine, I was relieved to hear his seemingly normal complaints about the bad food and boredom during their six-month deployments.
But the morning of October 12, 2000 blew away my tentative calm as the USS Cole was attacked by a suicide bomber. My brother wasn’t on the Cole, but it mattered little. Sailors lining up for lunch on board their destroyer were injured and killed. Less than a year later, September 11, 2001 launched our country into a war unlike any I’d read about in my history books. The stark fear I felt for my brother was given a name: Operation Iraqi Freedom.
After what seemed like an eternity but was actually only eight years, my brother completed his enlistment, uninjured and whole. He married his beautiful wife Amy shortly afterward. They now have two sons.
It turns out my terror was completely unfounded, seeing as Joe is very much alive and well today. But I can’t imagine what my life would look like if he hadn’t come home. Spending eight years in constant agitation seems like a cake-walk compared to never getting to see my brother laugh again.
On that note, I’d like to say something to you mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, husbands and wives, friends and relatives of those who have not come home. I’m sorry for your loss. I am humbled by the sacrifice the one you love made. Please accept my deepest thanks on this Memorial Day.