An Army soldier approaches the row ahead of mine. I try to maintain my composure as to not disturb his expression of grief, but my tears come faster than I can breathe. The soldier kneels to pray. After a moment, he stands, salutes, and puts something on top of the grave marker. The soldier leaves quietly, returns; then leaves again. I stand motionless and uncertain sensing he may want to talk, but hesitant to interrupt. He comes one more time, so I join him.
“Was he a friend of yours?” I ask.
“Yes Ma’am, he was.”
“Would you tell me about your friend?”
He and the corporal were close friends. They served together in Iraq and Afghanistan. The soldier before me had been deployed overseas six times, and was struggling with the loss of many friends. I met him saluting his friend who died in 2005, but he was here for another friend whose graveside service I just witnessed. That friend was a medic, trained to work on injured soldiers while in transit on helicopters.
“Ah, the helicopter fly-over was for him.”
“What can we do for you?”
“Bring us home, Ma’am. Please, bring us all the way home.”
We stand together in silence for a long time – two total strangers connected by the intimacy of honor. His countenance is beautiful. In spite of his grief, in spite of the horror he has seen, he is beautiful. As soon as he leaves, I regret not getting his name. I wish I’d been able to listen to his story. I wished I’d prayed with him. I wish I’d prayed for his healing. I also wish I had told him how proud I am of him and the many sacrifices he’s made for my freedom. How I wish I had told him…but I didn’t.
Several minutes later, I pick up the piece of metal he left on top of his friend’s gravestone. It is a dog tag. It has an American flag on one side and on the other, the words to Joshua 1:9.
Thank you, Lord, that this soldier has confronted terrorism first-hand so that I never have to. Bring rest to his spirit, Lord, and remove any terror that has taken up residence in his heart.
“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9 (NIV)
(Copyright © 2009 by Jane Cook, Jocelyn Green, and John Croushorn. Battlefields and Blessings Stories of Faith and Courage from the Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Published by God & Country Press, an imprint of AMG Publishers – All rights reserved.)