Memorial Day in the U.S. is about remembering the women and men who have given their lives in service to our country. I have personally known dozens and dozen of soldiers who have SERVED this country. I myself was a member of the Indiana National Guard from 1991 – 2007.
But, I’ve only had a close, personal relationship with one person who has given their life in service to us. That man was Richard Blakley, and I would like to honor him today. He was one of the best friends I’ve ever had.
I first met him in 1992 after my initial Army training, and joining my official Guard unit back home. Rick, myself, and a few other soldiers quickly formed a tight knit little core group of friends. Back then we would often joke about how unlikely it would be for any of us to every be in an actual war. Desert Storm had come and gone rather quickly, and besides, the regular Army would be the ones called to war, not us.
And in any case, we were part of a medical unit, if we ever did go to war, we would be in the rear. Casualties would be brought back to us. We would be far from any real fighting.
In 1994, American Eagle flight 4184 crashed in Roselawn, Indiana, killing all 68 people on board. A handful of us, including myself and Rick were called to service to help in the recovery and identification process.
All the pieces had already been picked up and put in numbered bags by the time we got there. There were over 3 thousand pieces and they were stored in the back of 2 refrigerated semi trailers. The funeral directors would send someone out with a little piece of paper with a number on it. Our job was to find that numbered bag.
I distinctly remember the moment. It made such an impression on me, that it was galvanized into the fabric of my soul forever. Rick and I were together in one of those trailers, surrounded by literally thousands of pieces of human remains. It was a devastating experience. I looked at him, his face barely visible behind his haz-mat suit hood and respirator, and said to him, “Why are WE here?”
Rick answered, “I think it’s because we’re medics.”
“But these people don’t need medics,” I replied. “This isn’t supposed to be our job.”
Rick didn’t hesitate or search for an answer. It just rolled right out of him. “Carrie, our job is to serve our country and our state. And that’s what we’re doing.”
Rick left me speechless for a moment, as you can imagine. And then, of course, I realized what he said was true. It was one of those small, little defining moments of my life. One of those moments when all the hallmark sentiments, and public service announcements, and inspirational quotes sinks in and BECOMES part of who you are. I will never forget Rick, or that moment. And I have tried to live that moment ever since, trying to “serve”, trying to help.
I haven’t always been successful, but Rick was. Rick continued living that moment right up to the end. Just a few weeks before he died, he was awarded the Purple Heart by the governor of Indiana. In January of 2006 he had been wounded by sniper fire. On June 6, 2006, he was killed by small-arms fire while on patrol near Al Khalidiyah, Iraq.
Rick was my friend, and I miss him. I dedicate this Memorial day to him.
Suicide rates are alarmingly high among veterans. An estimated 22 vets commit suicide EVERY DAY. If you are a veteran in crises, or you are concerned about a vet, help is available 24/7. This country loves you and is in eternal debt to your service.
Do you know any veterans who have given their lives in service to our country? Please share their story, as we honor them this weekend.