I have and will forever dread the month of May. Throughout my enlistment in the Marine Corps and also after it, the month of May has marked a period of great sadness in the life of myself and the lives of those with whom I served. My reasons for these feelings can be traced back to the harvesting of poppy in the spring. This would inevitably lead to increased attacks by the Taliban brought on by the proceeds from their involvement in the illicit drug trade. This meant they would have a plethora of resources that were not available until now.
I remember walking through the poppy fields every day on patrols and how beautiful and peaceful it was. As the spring would transition into the summer my stomach would tighten as of May crept closer and closer. The bulbs of the scarred poppy plant were the last piece of clear evidence that the crop had been harvested and that only greater trials and tribulations laid ahead. Once harvested the fields of peace and serenity then became dry and barren with acres of scarred poppy bulbs and vast emptiness. Since that time every May I now feel like the scarred poppy bulb, hollow and barren. I now feel that sometimes all of the good in me has been removed, and all that remains is scars that will not heal.
With so much pain and aguish I found it too easy to be mad at May, and my first year out of the USMC in the summer of 2011 I was just that. Angry and bitter at the world and it was nothing short of igniting my own self-destruction, sending me down a path of self-medicating and near implosion. Sending me down a path of self-medicating and near implosion. Even though I was a year removed from the poppy fields of Marjah, Afghanistan, I have now come to realize that a part of me never left and never will. May of 2010 my unit was in the deadliest part of our deployment and danger was all around. We all began to notice the drastic increase in attacks not just in number but also in intensity, and then it happened and soon the ones we all loved the most began to be taken from us and by the end of the month I was begging to join them. The short answer is because it was my job to lead and ensure the safety of those deemed as my subordinates, but all I could think then was why not me? Why did the ones that were the best of all of us have to be taken away and what will I say to the wives, mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers when I come home?
By the time we left Marjah, Afghanistan, in July 2010 our unit although strong and resilient really just needed to go home. We were all different after that deployment and it affected all of us at every leadership level. It did not matter if this was your first deployment of your fifth, you knew that you were not the same person that came there just over seven months ago. Trying to understand these emotions always led me back to where it all began, and it was back to the days before the mission launched and all of the "motivating speeches" that closely followed. I remember hearing how we would always be known as "Marjah Marines" and that our place in history is secured next to the marines of Iwo Jima and Guadalcanal. I'm not really sure what they meant by that, but my company Gunnery Sergeant, GySgt. Brain Walgren gave one speech that I remember and will never forget. His stories and speeches had become legend and this one was his finest and what rang out the most to me was the truth in his statement of "We all know the reason you do shit is because of the Marine to your left and the Marine to you right. God, country and Corps doesn't matter at that point."
We were all in this fight together and we were willing to die for each other because we were motivated by the fear of our actions costing the lives of another and if need be we would much rather die for that then let it cost the life of another. There is no bond like the one that is forged in the fires of combat and it goes beyond this lifetime and many to come. My feelings, my hate, my hurt and my pain were not just because of the memories of my fallen brothers, but it was the realization that I was failing them now. You are always told that you will have friends in the military that you are willing to die for and they would also die for you, but no one ever tells you what happens when they die and how to get up off the floor. After longer than I care to admit I have found my way and now I know the real reason of Memorial Day and I regret that it has taken this long to understand it.
It is not just about reflecting on the memories of the loved ones lost, but it is living a life that is honorable of their sacrifice. For most Americans Memorial Day is celebrated once a year, but for the families who have buried their sons, daughters, husbands and loved ones it is something that is remembered daily. For too long I suppressed my feelings and allowed hate, anger and pain to engulf my life, and it almost cost me everything. Now I feel as if I have finally found my place in the world and I work every day toward becoming a better man and trying to find a way to honor the memory of my fallen comrades.I will honor their sacrifice and ensure their legacy continues by living a life that they can be proud of until we meet again in Fiddlers' Green.