duminică, 13 februarie 2011

Some Gave All

Last April 4, I woke up early because we had an all-day track meet that day—the Greenwood Relays. I remember watching the news that morning before school, as I do almost every day. The news caster announced that a Marine had been killed somewhere in Iraq… Now, I can’t even remember where. But I remember they did not say it was Fallujah. With guilty relief, I told myself it couldn’t be my cousin because he was in Fallujah.

He joined the Marine Corps and I really didn’t know the extent of what it was he did. Honestly, I thought he had taken a step down in his dreams—he went from wanting to be a corporate lawyer, to enlisting in the Marine Corps. I heard that he had tied range records at Camp Pendleton, was in the elite Force Recon. I still thought he should have gone on to become a lawyer. It didn’t shock me that he excelled in the Corps—he was the best at everything he ever did.

When I heard that his unit, the 4th Recon, was deploying to Iraq, I can honestly say I wasn’t the least bit concerned. I believed my two older cousins, Jerimiah and Colby, were invincible. Growing up with them, they were both always the best. In my younger years, I spent more time with the two of them than I did with my own brother.

About two weeks before Jerimiah was supposed to leave for Iraq, I got up one morning and my mother tearfully informed me that Colby (who was in the Army National Guard) had been in a snow-machining accident and was in a coma. She was very worried. Somehow, I wasn’t. I knew Colby would be okay. Colby was in a coma for about two weeks and Jerimiah requested to go home for his final weekend before he had to leave for Iraq. He was granted his request.

When Jerimiah had to leave, he spent a final ten minutes alone with Colby, who was still in a coma. Then, he left for Iraq. While Jerimiah was on his way to the air port, Colby awoke from the coma.

Jerimiah arrived safely in Iraq. He called home on a Sunday night to say that it was “boring” in Iraq. The following morning was April 4, when I heard the news of the Marines who were killed when their vehicle went over a land mine.

I went to my track meet that day, blissfully unaware of the horrors that day held. I got home from the meet around 5:00 p.m., drove home, and my dad met me outside. He asked me if I needed him to carry my bag inside. I thought that an odd request and as I walked in the living room, my dad said, “Sit down.” My mother was in her rocking chair, her face reddened with tears. Immediately my thoughts were of Jerimiah and the news report I had heard that morning. Before I could sit down, Daddy said, “Jerimiah got killed.” I remember Dad wrapping his arms around me as he sobbed. My face was buried in his chest but my eyes were wide open and I did not shed a tear. My thoughts were racing a million miles a minute but the only concept that I could grasp was “He can’t be dead.” As Dad stood there holding me, reality began to hit and I cried with a loss I have never felt before.

Several days later, Jerimiah’s grandfather died. We went home to Louisiana, where we had a double visitation and two funerals in one day.

I had trouble grasping the fact that Jerimiah had died. I thought when I saw him lying in the casket, it would give me closure. We followed the hearse from the funeral home to the church. Men stood lining the interstate holding up American flags, in honor of Jerimiah. The city of Walker, Louisiana had erected flags about every 10 feet all through the city to honor Jerimiah’s sacrifice.

We arrived at the church and the family viewed the body. When I saw the body, it was not Jerimiah. Jerimiah was always so full of life. He always had a twinkle in his eye and a grin on his face. He was always up to something. This lifeless shell was not my cousin. Jerimiah was simply not Jerimiah when he was not bubbling over with life.

I collapsed in my mother’s arms as we sat in the church and cried together. I wanted to be alone. I needed time. I remembering going and sitting down about four pews back, directly in front of the casket and just sitting there crying. Jerimiah’s best friend and fellow Marine, Brian, came and held me while I cried. Jerimiah’s younger sister, Amie, Brian, and Brian’s younger brother, James, sat with me and we began to share stories that were dear to our hearts of memories we had of Jerimiah. We shared wonderful memories for over an hour. Before I knew it, we were all laughing. Every memory of Jerimiah brought a smile to our face. Being the daredevil that he was, Jerimiah was famous for the phrase, “We’ll make it.” Brian said dirt bikes had ended up at the bottom of lakes, trucks had been wrecked, and a number of other minor catastrophes after Jerimiah’s famous words, “We’ll make it.” From that point on, any time Amie or I would begin to break down we would assure the other one, “We’ll make it.” It always brought a smile to our faces. I still can’t believe that he is gone; it seems so unreal, but his memories are alive in the hearts of everyone who loved him.

As one news article confirmed,
“Jerimiah Kinchen started off with G.I. Joes and moved on to video war games. When his first-grade teacher asked what he wanted to be, he already had a plan.

"Jeremiah wanted to be a soldier," said teacher Donna Roberts. "That wasn't all that common back then."

Kinchen, 22, of Salcha, Alaska, was killed April 4 in an explosion in Al Anbar province. The reservist was based in San Antonio, Texas.

Born in Louisiana, Kinchen moved to Alaska with his family, including parents James and Jeanie Kinchen. A friend from high school, William Westurland, said Kinchen "was pretty much a comedian half the time."

"If a spitball went across the room during a test, everyone would look to Jeremiah," he said. "He always wanted to see people on a happy note."
The next day, I sat by my mother and sobbed on her shoulder as I heard the songs, “Some Gave All” and “American Soldier” played at Jerimiah’s funeral. My daddy preached the funeral and I don’t know how he did it. We made our way to the cemetery, passing Jerimiah’s elementary school. Every student and faculty member was standing outside the school, waving hundreds of American flags. Their faces past in a blur, and I wished Jerimiah could have known how much so many people cared about him.

We arrived at the cemetery and at that point I cannot remember what happened to my mother, but my brother took care of me. I remember several Marines presenting my aunt, Jerimiah’s mother, with Jerimiah’s Purple Heart. I remember seeing these tough Marines crying as they hugged my aunt, uncle, and Colby and Amie. When they placed their white gloves on Jerimiah’s casket, it was symbolically touching. Taps was played and I never knew the heartbreak that melody held. The afternoon, like the days leading up to it, is still a blur in my mind, but I remember the casket being lowered, and the first scoops of dirt being shoveled into the grave.

Losing Jerimiah changed my life more than I ever thought anything could. Death became a reality to me that I had never accepted and with that, I learned the importance of life and what you do with the time you have—however long or short that may be. I learned how important the legacy you leave behind is.

The following Sunday after we returned home to Missouri, I Googled Jerimiah’s name. It turned up 18 pages. I looked at every single one of them. On one such link, I found the blog of a man whose son was in Jerimiah’s unit, the 4th Recon. He mentioned how hard the unit had taken losing Jerimiah and in another post he provided a list of needs the young men of Jerimiah’s unit had.

At this same time, I was angered by people who asked, “What can I do for your family?” There was nothing they could do to make us feel any better and it made me angry that they thought something they could do would ease the pain of losing Jerimiah. Suddenly, I realized that even though I never told Jerimiah how proud I was of him, I wanted his unit to know how much we as Americans and as those who loved Jerimiah appreciate what they do every day. I put contact information on a web site and when people asked me what they could do for my family, I would give them the web site URL and tell them they could send a care package to Jerimiah’s unit. With that, Help 4th Recon was born.

Along this time, I realized that I wanted to do something to support our military. I was reading everything I could get my hands on about the military, but particularly the Marine Corps, and I discovered Milblogs. It was of such great interest to me that I knew I wanted to do something with my life that would support our military. I decided that the best way to do this would be to go into politics. I thought I would support our troops that way. Finally, I realized I loved the military so much that I wanted to be a part of it.

After my bout with the Navy, I enlisted in the Marine Corps. Many people find it laughable that I would join any branch of the military, but particularly the Corps. My reasons are numerous, but I chose to join the military because I want to make the most of all of our Fallen Hero’s sacrifices. Jerimiah’s death changed my life, but there are so many more who have sacrificed everything. There are more than 2,000 now who have paid the ultimate price in Operation Iraqi Freedom. I will not sit by in the comfort of my home and allow their sacrifices to have been wastes. Each of these brave men and women died for the cause of Freedom and I intend to do my all to see that the freedom they gave their lives for lives on.

I am a different person than I was when I got up last April 4 to head to my track meet. I deal with much more bitterness, anger, and pain than I ever thought could effect me, but I also realize what is important in life. The people I love and the country I live in are more important to me now than the new Louis Vuitton purse I want. Serving my country is more important to me than that some girl in my class was talking crap about me. Remembering the sacrifices of our Fallen Heroes is far more important to me than catching the latest episode of Entertainment Tonight. I am ashamed to admit the person I used to be, but I am prouder than I can say that I am soon to be a UNITED STATES MARINE.