THE BLOG
05/28/2011 09:35 am ET | Updated Jul 28, 2011

Afghanistan Memorial Day: Remembering PFC Ara Deysie

I spent three days mulling over what I would say at PFC Ara Deysie's memorial service. There I sat with ringing ears in my hospital bed at Forward Operating Base Salerno making the conventional notes about his heroism, character, honor and the like. In my eyes, the memorial would be a chance to regain my composure after the near ambush on May 9, 2008 upended my confidence that my soldiers and I might come home from Afghanistan alive. By the time the hour came to return to Combat Outpost Wilderness for Deysie's service, I thought I was ready. I would bring carefully considered words of wisdom, remarks for the ages. I would console my grieving platoon while speeding Private Deysie's soul on its way. In other words, I was a young and arrogant fool. I still had a lot to learn.

As it turned out, the hand of God intervened and the helicopter that was scheduled to take me back to my dusty home in the mountains left without me. This was like salt in a very deep wound. I hadn't realized how badly I needed to be at the memorial service. Now, my last memories of Deysie would forever be associated with the smell and sight of blood, and of the Blackhawk that bore his flag-shrouded body up the western branch of the valley and into the sunset. If I had been able to go to his memorial, there's no way to know what would have happened. I might have broken down in tears in front of my men. More likely, I could have bungled my words, or worse, just said something bland and forgettable about the remarkable young infantrymen who had died.

I've reflected on PFC Deysie almost daily in the years since his death. The pressure of a thousand days and nights of these thoughts, regrets, hopes and dreams has been overwhelming at times. But it has also renewed my spiritual life with a newfound urgency. I can never again live a day ungratefully. For a few terrifying moments, I believed that I had been the one struck by the grenades, and that I was dying. But Deysie's courage saved me. A lesser man would have ducked down in the turret, and the explosion probably would have killed everyone in the vehicle. But he wasn't that kind of soldier. I will always remember that my present enjoyment of life has been made possible only through the debt of blood paid for me by another. There can be no meaningless and empty days ahead of me. Each morning is an unexpected gift. Thank you for this Deysie.

I want you to know that we never forgot you. We remembered you in small ways by wearing your name on our wrists every day. I wear it still in spite of the uncomfortable questions that it sometimes invites. We also marked your courage by building a new base named in your honor. Our platoon spent months pounding pickets for the wire perimeter, and planning the grounds for the new outpost. I'm sure you remember the high cliffs surrounding "Ambush Alley." Combat Outpost Deysie now protects the vehicles that travel through that haunted stretch of road. I hope that your soul has found peace and comfort in the embrace of our Lord, and that our thoughts and prayers have sweetened for you the cool breezes of Heaven. My greatest wish is that you may be honored and pleased with what we have done with your name on our tongues in the last three years.

Of course, we know that there are millions of heroes to remember and revere on this Memorial Day, and more of our men and women in uniform will give up their lives before the war is over. Only last fall two more of my soldiers were killed in a bomb-blast in Afghanistan. This time I was in the United States, and was asked to speak at the funeral service for SPC Anthony Vargas. Nothing can prepare anyone to try to console a grieving mother and father at such a time, and so I ask the Lord to be gentle with the grief-stricken in their time of sorrow. I pray that the families of the fallen may find peace in their turmoil, and consolation in the terrific courage of their loved ones. I pray that my men, and all who are still serving overseas can come home to their families whole in body and mind. May the souls of the departed reach the abode of everlasting peace in the arms of God, and may we honor them with our determination and love. Amen.