This is how I recall it: In August 2009 I got a phone call from Lisa Freeman, then a teacher at Richmond Hill Middle School.
She asked if I’d be interested in coming out to talk to her class about my job. I said sure, and she said she’d get back to me with details.
I never heard back. Instead, on Aug. 7 more than seven years ago, Lisa learned her son, Capt. Matthew Freeman, a United States Marine Corps pilot and Naval Academy graduate, was killed in combat in Afghanistan.
We devoted the front page of our the next issue to Matthew, a local kid who did everything right and paid the price for his goodness at the age of 29.
Freeman wasn’t the first from Bryan County to be killed in the Global War on Terror. In 2005, Bryan County High School graduate and Army Staff Sgt. Joel Dameron was killed in Iraq while on patrol. He, like Freeman, now has a road named in his honor.
There was also Staff Sgt. Jason Dahlke, an Army Ranger who’d spent much of the last 10 years deployed to various combat zones before his death in 2009. He now has an adventure race named after him.
Lisa Freeman has devoted her life since to the Matthew Freeman Project, providing not just pens and paper to Afghanistan’s children, but also scholarships to students, and comfort in other forms to the families who suffer from a war that continues on and on, and continues to take the lives of American servicemen and women.
Only a few weeks ago, on April 26, two Army sergeants, Joshua Rodgers and Cameron Thomas, were killed by small arms fire in Nangarhar Province in Afghanistan.
Thomas was the oldest. He was all of 23.
Barely a week before, on April 22, Army 1st Lt. Lee Weston of Bluffton, Georgia, was killed in a bomb in Mosul, Iraq. He was just 25.
And so it goes. People with their whole lives in front of them dying in dusty places half a world away, leaving Gold Star families and an ocean of private grief and terror in their wake. It’s how war has been since war began, one imagines. And it takes a terrible toll.
From 1775 to 1991, American troops suffered 651,031 battle deaths. Another 6,800 or more have died in the Global War on Terror in the 16 years its been grinding on.
And every year comes Memorial Day.
If we’re honest, most of us will say we’re looking forward to the three-day weekend as a chance to take a break and chill out. I know I am. Life gets busy.
But still, we owe them.
So this Memorial Day, while you’re on a beach somewhere with your toes in the sand, relishing the sun and the first taste of summer’s promise, pause for a moment.
Consider that you’re alive and they’re not, these once vivid men and women who have died in such awful numbers over the years, and ask yourself why they had to die. And then find room somewhere in your heart for their absence.