After learning that Shawn had been killed in action in Afghanistan I wrote to my son, Jack, in Iraq and observed that death often arrives as a number…but it is different when death arrives with a name and a close association. I never met Shawn, although I know much about Shawn from other vantages.
I know about Shawn through my association with Soldiers over the course of my own Army career. I saw Soldiers face mighty challenges and shoulder their heavy loads. With them I crossed many rivers and streams, hills and mountains, fields and meadows, seas and continents as we went about assigned missions. I shared their gripes and groans as well as their successes and achievements. I saw them stretch their paychecks to the breaking point as they moved their families from one duty station to another. I watched them leave loved ones behind and I watched as others lost loved ones. At their side I saluted the comrades who paid the ultimate sacrifice and handed their casket flags to family members at graveside services. I saw their faith in their leaders and fellow soldiers. I observed their faith in God in all their circumstances.
I know about Shawn from the impact Soldiers have had upon their buddies and friends, pastors and teachers, girlfriends and wives, sisters and brothers, moms and pops, close family and extended. I know him from poems and stories, trinkets and knickknacks, artifacts and photos left behind and painfully and poignantly shared in the book Shrapnel in the Heart.
- “Michael, We grew up together. We served together. You died and I lived. I never could understand that. You were a much better person than me. I’ll always remember you. Life has never been the same without you. Your buddy, Tom”
- “Even though I never really knew you, you still meant the world to me. Thank you, Daddy, for giving me three years of your life. Remembering you through photos, I can only say I love you, Daddy, Happy Father’s Day. Part of me died with you. Love, Your son, Joe”
- “Dearest Eddie Lynne, I’d give anything to have you shell just one more pecan for me on Grandma’s porch. All my love, Your cousin, Anne”
I know about Shawn from the experiences of military leaders more accomplished and eloquent than I. General Douglas Macarthur spoke reverently of Soldiers and I frequently listen to the recording where he said:
- “Their story is known to all of you. It is the story of the American man at arms. My estimate of him was formed on the battlefields many, many years ago, and has never changed. I regarded him then, as I regard him now, as one of the world’s noblest figures; not only as one of the finest military characters, but also as one of the most stainless. His name and fame are the birthright of every American citizen. In his youth and strength, his love and loyalty, he gave all that mortality can give. He needs no eulogy from me or from any other man. He has written his own history and written it in red on his enemy’s breast.But when I think of his patience under adversity, of his courage under fire, and of his modesty in victory, I am filled with an emotion of admiration I cannot put into words. He belongs to history as furnishing one of the greatest examples of successful patriotism. He belongs to posterity as the instructor of future generations in the principles of liberty and freedom. He belongs to the present, to us, by his virtues and by his achievements.”
I know about Shawn through Kathy’s pride in his accomplishments and I always looked forward to seeing her behind the counter knowing that she would share stories about him. She said he achieved seven ranks in seven years and that he wore the elite Green Beret. I gleaned from her conversations that he had great pride in his unit, in its mission and in his service to our Nation. I saw his character in her character. I saw him in her sparkling eyes as she spoke of him.
Yet, there is much that I cannot know about Shawn. I cannot begin to imagine what Kathy feels as the mom who lovingly gave life to a son; the mom who nourished him so that he grew to become a courageous man. I cannot begin to imagine what she misses about her son. I cannot begin to imagine her anguish and I cannot begin to imagine living with her broken heart. Yet, I know that she will and because she will we will always see Shawn in her eyes.
I know that for the Soldiers in his unit, losing Shawn was like losing the best, or the brightest, or the funniest, or the most dedicated, or the most selfless, or most dependable, or capable and that his death hurt the unit more than anyone could possibly express; that the unit faltered for but a moment before pickling itself up and moving forward with memories of successful times and with a redoubled devotion to duty.
Knowing Soldiers as I do, I could stand by stoically and admire all Shawn’s professional accomplishments, his devotion to duty, and the honor he brought to our Nation. Nothing though, absolutely nothing, in my human composition allows me to stoically stand by knowing that his mom, my friend, Kathy has lost so much.