A Smile, not Tears, on Memorial Day

Today is Memorial Day, where we remember those who have fallen in service of this nation. For well over a week now our Facebook and other social media feeds have been rife with reminders that you don’t thank veterans on Memorial Day and that “it isn’t about BBQ“. We say absolutely have your BBQ, and a few cold ones too. You shouldn’t be chided or ashamed for having a good day with your family–what would our friends be doing if they were still with us? If not drinking and chowing down during a 96, they’d be heading over to Toby’s or similar after they finished with barracks duty. What we do ask is that while you enjoy the day, take a moment to reflect on those courageous sons, fathers, daughters, husbands, wives, brothers, and mothers who gave the ultimate sacrifice.

But these reflections and remembrances don’t have to be negative or bereaved. Hernandez is going to share a story he likes to relive, and the featured image of Merrill taking his daughter to visit a friend encapsulates our thoughts on the day. To quote General George S Patton: It is foolish and wrong to mourn the men who died. Rather we should thank God that such men lived.

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Memorial Day doesn’t have to be a sad day.

I’m lucky to not have lost many friends during my wartime service. But when I think of one I did lose, I don’t get depressed. I have a laugh.

In 2008, I had just transferred to a new unit and was preparing to deploy to Afghanistan. A couple friends and I got lucky and were sent to Squad Designated Marksman school in Arkansas. When we checked in and picked out a bunk in our open squad bay, another soldier was already there prepping his gear. He was wearing a t-shirt from a tactical training company I had also trained at, and we connected immediately.

He was an infantryman named Jared Southworth. I’m a cop, married and at that time I had three kids and one on the way. Jared was a cop, and even though he was only 26 he was married with four kids. He was very talkative and friendly, and I had no idea he was a lieutenant until I happened to see his ACUs, with ranger tab, hanging in his wall locker. When I apologized for calling him by his first name, he laughed it off. Like most good leaders, he didn’t rely on rank to earn respect.

Memorial Day
Jared Southworth

Jared had never deployed. Almost all the rest of us in the class had been to Iraq, and Jared said he volunteered to deploy because “I’m sick of everyone I meet looking at my right sleeve as soon as we shake hands.” He wasn’t sure what exactly he would do overseas, but his Illinois Army NG unit was headed to Afghanistan a few months after SDM class. Jared was eager to get there.

In the military you make friends fast, and Jared and I became pretty good friends. We shared a lot of cop stories, talked about family, and discussed our expectations about Afghanistan. Jared was always joking. One day someone talked about MPs giving “no reflective belt” tickets on FOBs in Iraq, and Jared made an observation:

MPs always act like they’re Combat Arms. They’re not Combat Arms. If one of your team leaders can get another one of your team leaders pregnant, you’re not Combat Arms!

Jared had driven down from Illinois for the class in his pimped-out SUV. When we had a night out, eight of us loaded into the SUV, with me driving while Jared and everyone else drank heavily at Little Rock bars. One soldier, a skinny young black kid from New York who was actually named Butts, got stupid drunk. As we drove around looking for an open restaurant, Butts nearly passed out. A Vermont redneck threw him over the back seat into the cargo area, where he promptly puked.

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Hernandez content block. 



Actually, Hernandez only wrote 3 of these. We included the other one to be ethnically inappropriate.

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Word was passed to Jared that “Hey bro, Butts just puked in your car.” Jared yelled toward the back, “Butts! Did you fucking puke?

Butts replied, “Uuuuhh huuuhh.”

Furious, Jared yelled, “Are you done?

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Butts gave a thumbs up from behind the back seat. Then he switched it to “hold on”, then gave a “so-so” signal. Jared mumbled curses as we pulled into a Waffle House parking lot, taking a space right in front of the big plate-glass window at the front of the restaurant. Everyone piled out, walked to the back and opened the hatchback. Butts fell out. We caught him and lifted him back into the cargo area. His pants were down, and he was barely conscious. I yelled, “Butts, we’re getting something to eat! The windows are open, you’ll be fine. We’ll come back in a little bit. Don’t puke again.”

Butts mumbled something I think was acknowledgment. Jared and I slammed the hatchback closed, then we all turned around. About twenty people inside Waffle House were staring intently at us through the plate-glass window. Maybe they thought we were kidnapping a black kid, but nobody said a word as we walked inside.

When we graduated, Jared and I promised to stay in touch. He called me a couple of months later and asked if I wanted to deploy with his brigade. Guard troops can volunteer to deploy with units from other states, and Jared wanted me to be one of his troops. He was being assigned to a Police Mentor Team and thought my law enforcement and deployment experience would come in handy.

I was already scheduled to deploy two months after Jared. I thought about it and told Jared I’d go ahead and stick with my friends. He understood, and we agreed to look each other up when we were both in the country.

Memorial Day

Jared deployed in late 2008. I arrived in early February of 2009 and got to my firebase on February 7th. Three days later I ran into a soldier on the firebase wearing Jared’s patch. I asked him if he knew Lieutenant Southworth.

A pained look crossed the soldier’s face. “Yeah, I knew him,” he said. “He was killed two days ago.”

I went silent for a few long moments. When I finally did speak, I asked the soldier several questions, hoping he had the wrong person. But it was true; Jared had been killed by an IED on February 8th. An Afghan police patrol had found an IED and reported they had disarmed it. Jared, another soldier, an Afghan police officer and their translator approached to check it out. It detonated, killing all four of them.

A tribute to Jared, from an unknown source

When I think about Jared, yeah, I know his loss sucks. But I’m not sad. Jared was a good dude, funny as hell, and he followed the warrior path. He knew he might die at war, and he went anyway. I don’t have to always feel grief at his memory. Instead, I choose to remember how much fun he was to be around and to respect what he chose to do. I smile about his life, instead of crying over his death.

Happy Memorial Day, Jared.

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Chris Hernandez

Chris Hernandez may just be the crustiest member of the eeeee-LITE writin’ team here at Breach-Bang-Clear. He is a veteran of both the Marine Corps and the Army National Guard who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. He is also a veteran police officer of two decades who spent a long (and eye-opening) deployment as part of a UN police mission in Kosovo. He is the author of White Flags & Dropped Rifles – the Real Truth About Working With the French Army and The Military Within the Military as well as the modern military fiction novels Line in the Valley, Proof of Our Resolve and Safe From the War. When he isn’t groaning about a change in the weather and snacking on Osteo Bi-Flex he writes on his own blog.


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