memorial day

The Blank Check

 “A veteran is someone who, at one point in their life wrote a blank check made payable to The United States of America, for an amount up to and including their life.”

That’s an unattributed quote that gets thrown around a lot this time of year-specifically this weekend.  It’s a thought that’s never quite squared with me. I’m a veteran. And when I signed up, I didn’t write any blank checks. I signed up to do a job for a reason.  I did it because it was a good and honorable profession. And because it paid for my college. And I kept doing it because it paid me well, and took care of my family.  And when I couldn’t do it any more, I stopped. Or at least I tried. But I couldn’t. Because I didn’t know how.

When I started, I never really thought that my life was at risk-any more than anyone else that drove on a freeway to work, or flew a plane for a living or worked on a high-rise construction site.  I’d like to think that I did it out of patriotism.  That I raised my hand because I loved my country and that I wanted to defend our way of life.  It’s not that I don’t.  Or that I wouldn’t.  It’s just been a long time since anyone of us had to actually defend an American’s ability to live the American way.  Really long-centuries. So when that particular reverence is paid to vets, I struggle with it.  Because when we’re really honest, most would tell you what I just did.

There’s something comforting to the notion that those that made the ultimate sacrifice had an expectation that their service may be their end. Somehow, it makes us feel better.  They all knew what they were getting into…something like that.  The truth is, it doesn’t really work like that.  We signed up for our own reasons and hoped for experiences that would help shape us.  We wanted camaraderie and war stories.  We wanted the glory of serving during battle and the recognition that came with it.  None of us wanted to die.  Almost none of us expected we would. But sometimes it happened.  It’s a heavy price to pay.  And one that was paid too often over the last two decades.

Every now and then, I take a run to the Cabrillo Monument, out at the end of Point Loma in San Diego.  It’s a beautiful run that takes you past a panoramic view of the harbor and the San Diego skyline.  It also takes you through Fort Rosecrans cemetery, where thousands of veterans are buried in a long rolling plot of land that is straddled by the bustling of San Diego harbor on one side and the quiet enormity of the Pacific on the other.

There’s one particular marker that sticks out, near the ocean side entrance to the site.  SGT Alejandro Dominguez, killed June 25th 2008, ten weeks short of hisTombstone 25th birthday.  I didn’t know SGT Dominguez. We didn’t serve together.  His gravestone, his obituary and an official press release with a two line blurb about his death are all I needed to know.

He woke up on his 18th birthday, September 11, 2001, to see the attack on the World Trade Center. The day he was old enough to go to war for his country, his country entered into one. Shortly after, he enlisted and made multiple deployments. On his last, while serving in Iraq, his vehicle hit a roadside bomb, killing him and SPC Joel Taylor and PFC James Yohn-two soldiers junior to him whose lives he no doubt felt accountable for.

There’s a narrative you could build that sounds like this.  SGT Dominguez, born on 9/11, in an act of patriotism rushed out to defend his country and willingly sacrificed himself to defend our way of life. In the end he payed the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom. May he rest in peace.

Knowing what I know about the young men and women I served with, there’s probably a lot of truth to that. But I also know something else. It’s incomplete.

SGT Dominguez did his part. He raised his hand. And served his time. But he went back for more. Because like so many, he did write that blank check. Not to America.  But to the life of a soldier at war.

In 2004, about the time that SGT Dominguez was heading out for his first deployment, I was coming home. I’d just completed back to back pumps in Operation Enduring Freedom. And I was done. I resigned my commission and transitioned out a few weeks after I returned to be with my wife and start a family. About six months later, Operation Red Wings went down-the mission that would eventually be made into the movie Lone Survivor. 19 Special Operations personnel were lost.

The day that it happened, the wife of a friend of mine called me. Her husband was deployed. It was heir first go at this as a married couple. She had watched the news and was worried. She asked me if I had any information about the operation or who had been involved. I had none.I was out of the loop. I was away from the life, getting my information from the news, just like her. I hung up the phone and got sick to my stomach.  I may have been done with the life, but it wasn’t done with me. The guilt was overpowering.The urge to fight back was all consuming, but impossible all the same.  About a year later, I was recalled back to active duty. I was happy to be back where I belonged, with my brothers and sisters in arms, fighting again.

I hadn’t realized that I too had written that blank check, or who I had written it to, until  I was standing on the tarmac at the on ramp of a C17 heading to Iraq, leading a troop one last time.  I felt whole again.  More whole than I ever felt as a husband.  More whole then I ever felt as a father. Perhaps like SGT Dominguez, watching over his two junior soldiers heading out the door one last time, leaving a wife and two young children behind, never to see them again.  The life is hard to stop living.  And the fallen of my generation, more times than not, fell before they had a chance to try.  And too many more of them fell after they left-failing to find the purpose or the drive they once felt-at war.

The fallen are heroes.  Maybe more than we realize. All of those men and women laying beneath those humble stones had plans for the days after they died. They all had hopes to get out alive, even if they didn’t know how. To start or finish a family. Write a book. Start a blog. And none of them did. They gave their life to a task that only they could do. Or a teammate only they could save. For many of them, the life of a warrior was all they knew any more. All they would do. All they could do.

This war has shaped my generation the way that only a war that travels with fighting men and women for 15 years can. And for those of you whose check was cashed, we remember you this weekend. Not because of the hundreds of millions of Americans sleeping soundly in their beds at night. Chances are, they’d still be sleeping soundly if you were still alive-perhaps even if you never went. But for the brothers and sisters who fought this war with you. And the bond we have. And the debt you paid for us. You never got the chance to try to stop living the life. And for that, we will be forever in your debt.

40 replies »

  1. This is a fantastic piece. A truly important message delivered clearly and with force. I will be quoting your last two paragraphs tomorrow to a group gathering to recognize memorial day.

    Liked by 6 people

    • I was just listening to the local Veterans Administration shoot off practice rounds for the ceremony today. This was going on while I read your piece. Put everything in perspective regarding memorial day….ty😉

      Liked by 5 people

  2. I can relate to that whole testimony. I served as well but not during any “conflict” but I was ready to serve. I remember,always the men I served with( during my time women didn t serve on the front lines)When I was discharged my younger brother went to Nam and when he came back he came back with his memory sealed away for his use only. No one could trespass on his hidden anguish, he lost many marines and I Think he wonders why not him… He wanted it to be rather than a special friend who didn t come back and there wasn t enough of him to send back to his family. I try to reach him over a long distance,as we Don t live close to one another. At times I find myself crying along with him as he lets me trespass on his private garden memories…and we can touch one another!
    Memorial Day? Part of me will always be missing for my brothers that I served with and for my brother that I didn t serve with
    Let no one cross my path that haven t served and yet have something to say about those that have, woe to them!
    I will never take my flag down under any protest.

    Liked by 6 people

  3. Very Well written. An incredible message that should take your patriotism to next level. One must not deny the fact that these are guys who are doing their best by facing the front line and preserving us from all anticipated alarms. They Owe thanks and appreciation.

    Liked by 7 people

  4. Hi Sean, Thank you so much for sharing that! It is really interesting and very well written. Im currently working on a post and I want other peoples opinion, thoughts and experiences. Would it be okay to ask you a few questions? Their is five questions all together and they shouldn’t take long. If you wouldn’t mind getting involved please reply back or send me a email to danielladay1@outlook.com.

    Liked by 5 people

  5. I began reading this piece not knowing what to expect… until time around me stopped, and I felt myself drawn into this powerful, heartfelt, brilliantly written definition of what Memorial Day should really be about. So glad I ‘discovered’ this today. Thank you.

    Liked by 5 people

  6. Reblogged this on Obzervashunal and commented:
    Any time I find myself so completely drawn into a written work, so lost in the words, ideas, visuals, truths… I know I’ve been handed a gift. Thank you, Sean Hughes of Chartwell West. Anyone celebrating Memorial Day should read this phenomenal piece.

    Liked by 5 people

  7. I really took a lot from your piece. I’ve never served, but have had many in my family who chose the military life for various reasons.Fortunately for my family, those who were called to active duty came home safe, but they never left their experience behind. Your piece helps me understand what draws one back. Personally, I don’t think we should wish people a “happy” Memorial Day. The day should be a time for us to reflect on the ultimate sacrifice many have made on behalf of our country AND the world. Your words really put that into a perspective.

    Liked by 4 people

  8. Thank you for writing this. The life of a soldier is one I could never willingly choose for myself. I pray for peace, for all of us, especially in our relations with other countries. Too many of our men and women have died at war, especially in recent decades, as you mentioned. I wish that not a single soldier more would lose his or her life. That being said, I am not naive enough to believe we can just lay down arms as a nation today and peace will magically happen. These things are very complicated, far too complicated for me. Regardless, I am grateful for those that have made the sacrifice to serve. I have many relatives who have served (some still in service). I hope they all live out their service, and beyond their service, as they choose.

    Liked by 4 people

  9. if any brothers or sisters need prayer… please let me know. I’m a retired 1SG. 20 years and prayer made all the difference for me. I have had an encounter with Jesus and our Father wants all of us to give that trauma to Him. God bless from a once broken war torn ranger.

    Liked by 3 people

  10. That is a really powerful quote!

    As someone that writes a blog mostly on christian ethics and world religion I like many others yearn for the days when we can develop Character of world leaders and a culture/atmosphere that promotes peace and neighborly love rather than war, conquest, corruption, and the paradigm of enemies and or “Other”.

    However there is no denying that brave men and woman have answered the call on numerous occasions in battles that may have needed those to fight and they selflessly put their lives at risk so that others could live.

    Hopefully in the coming decades memorial day will be a day we celebrate the end of all wars and the end of those most brave and most honorable giving up their lives.

    Wonderful post. And reading a lot of these comments just goes to show how wonderful the spirit of people really is when it’s about fellowship and love/remorse.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. Since the American Revolution, there have been approximately 82 million souls lost at the behest of the very worst kind of scum-sucking criminal thugs who pose as our “leaders.”

    They have behaved like the bystander(s) who observe the pummeling of innocents who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. These “leaders” are master craftsmen of lies, deception, cons who have had roughly 240 years to hone their crafts. They do this, not because they believe in nobility or decency, but because…

    They are megalomaniacs, thirteen families (13) who possess well over half the monies of the world. They are never satisfied. They always seek after more. Their ultimate goal is a “world of order.” They believe they are best-suited to not only envision, but to bring to fruition, this “order.” They arrogantly have referred to themselves as the “Illuminati” because they believe they can see and envision what we are unable to see, let alone grasp.

    Towards these “ends,” they have bought and paid for, with very rare exceptions, Congress and the White House. Since 1871, thanks to the Congress of that day, this country is a corporation. As with all corporations, we are owned, lock, stock and bank accounts. King George is dancing on his grave, for it is England who owns us. Don’t believe me. Do the research. The truth is out there…

    Ask yourself. Why on earth would anyone take the word of organized thugs and criminals that justify the wanton killing and destruction of whole nations and peoples?

    Ask yourself. Why would the Rothschild family fund the American Revolution, both the English side and the American side? Why would that same family fund every war since? Could just one of the “reasons” be that war is profitable?

    Nah!! That’s not possible! How on earth could the destruction of people’s lives and their homes and industries be profitable? One answer: not long ago we tax payers paid for the construction of an aircraft carrier. The cost: $13 BILLION dollars! The construction workers and their families stood to make a few bucks. I’m certain that is far more true of the investors…

    If what I’ve said is true, then is this reasons for celebrating on Memorial Day? You decide…

    Bill

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  12. With all due respect sir I couldn’t stop crying as I read your post.
    I for one can’t tell you how thankful and grateful I am for each and everyone of you that fought and fight for our freedom and are still fighting even today.
    My Stepfather RIP Emiterio Vega Alvarez and my Sister Roxanna Alvarez Lucas are both Veterans and recently found out my biological Father Leonard Martinez was one too and so many more family members and friends I salute and thank everyone of you.
    But one thing that honest to God bothers me is how there are so many homeless veterans after everything each and everyone of you have done for us,
    you all deserve to be held up high,
    in my eyes you all deserve nothing but the up most highest dignity, honor and respect,
    you all deserve all of the desires of your beautiful Purple Hearts,
    you should have it all for all of the battles you all have encountered.
    If I was rich I would make sure that each and everyone of you our heros had it all, that you would never have to worry about anything ever again.
    Not how are you gonna pay your bills, not where am I gonna live, not what am I gonna eat today.
    I would build the biggest food pantry ever and the biggest soup kitchen ever, you would never have to pay a penny for anything ever again everything for you would be totally free of charge because you all deserve nothing but the very best!!
    I would open up a huge mall and each and everyone of you and your families could get whatever you needed without a price because you all sacrificing your lives for us means so much more than words can say.
    I would build you all houses from the ground up and you would not have to pay one penny.
    I for one can never say thank you enough.
    I would make sure that you all got the best medical care and that you would never have to worry about housing or paying bills ever again.
    I love each and everyone of you,
    for every single thing you all have done for us,
    for every battle, for every tear, for every heartache, for every pain that you endured because you stood there and fought with all of your hearts for us so that we might live just like Jesus did.
    You didn’t think about the cost.
    I am more than positive that you thought what if I die today?
    What if this will be the last day I get to see my loved ones, parents, my siblings, my wife, my babies, my grandbabies, my nieces, my nephews, my grandparents, my Aunts my Uncles, my in laws, my family, my friends. I am sure you did that every single day.
    But you put your lives out on a limb everyday for us all just like Jesus so that we might live.
    I can never say thank you enough to Jesus for every single thing he did for us,for giving his life as a human sacrifice and also for each and everyone of you.
    All of the Veterans whether you are living or have lost your lives for us I can never say thank you enough.
    I can never repay you for everything you did for us if I could believe you me I would and one day God is going to bless me and when that day comes and it will, you too will be blessed.
    The visions God showed me will soon come to pass and nobody will ever have to worry about anything ever again.
    I ask God to bless each and every single one of you with all of the desires of your beautiful, loving hearts.
    I love you one and I love you all.
    I thank each and every single one of you with every single beat of my heart.
    I ask God to bless you all with all of the desires of your loving, unselfish, giving hearts.
    I ask God to open up the windows of heaven and pour out a blessing so big that none of us could ever contain, that every door that needs to be opened would be opened and every door that needed to be shut would be shut.
    And that God will destroy all of the evil and bring peace on earth and finally bring all of his promises to pass in Jesus name I pray let your Holy will be done.
    Almighty Father God have mercy on us all, forgive us for all of our sins, wash us, cleanse us, purify us, strengthen us and heal us in the precious Holy blood of Jesus Christ.
    I ask you to stretch forth your mighty healing hands upon us all, wrap your loving arms around us, comfort us and bring healing to your people heal all of our broken hearts bring all of your promises to pass, come and show us you are here, come and be with us again don’t turn your back on us we are yours, Almighty Father God we love you, we thank you and we praise you Jesus.
    Amen
    Sincerely,
    Rhonda Martinez Gomez

    Like

  13. This really touched me, especially as my partner has decided, and is now back in the army. To something I supported him doing, but never quite understanding why, this article has made me deep down understand.
    So thank you.

    Like

  14. Your poignant post is deeply touching and thought provoking. We live in such troubled times with conflicts and tragedies happening so frequently that we can almost become numb. Everyday we need to be aware and grateful for the service and sacrifices others provide so willingly to us. Thank you for your courage and your insights.

    Liked by 1 person

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