After The Folded Flag

Folded Flag White GlovesHardly a day or two passes when I don’t think about the brave men and women who have been killed in action in Iraq or Afghanistan over the past decade plus.  I can’t really even place a finger on why, either.

Maybe some of it has something to do with having a friend killed in Afghanistan in 2009.  Captain John Tinsley and I pledged our fraternity together in 1998, and he always had to have the “it” factor that most of us did not.  TinsleyI was honored to run a half marathon this past November in his memory, and will be doing so again this year.

Maybe some of it has something to do with having seen what PTSD has done to my best friend.  He served 14 years in the Navy, and was deployed several times around the world.  He went to Australia and the Middle East/Persian Gulf.  He spent more than a year as a guard at Guantanamo.  My friend does not open up much, but on the occasions I have gotten him to talk, it leaves me floored.  The things he has seen and done amaze me and make me sad all at once.  On one of the few occasions that I have gotten him to really open up to me, he confided that he had seriously considered suicide a few times.  Fortunately, he did not take his own life, and he is making progress every day.

What really got my attention, however, was watching NCIS last night.  There was the depiction of a Humvee in Afghanistan, and it immediately made me think of Captain Tinsley, because the Humvee he was riding in was hit by an IED.  But what really made me think about, and ultimately write this, was when the widow of a fallen Marine was handed the folded American flag from his casket.  I started to think and ponder about what happens after the folded flag.

As a population, we are numb anymore to news that another service member has been killed in action.  Or in a training exercise like the 8 Marines in Nevada this week.  It’s almost like we think it is just the nature of our existence, which it somewhat is, but it should never be just a passing mention.

When one of the fallen is finally brought home, they typically arrive at Dover AFB in Delaware, where they are greeted and eventually transported to the place where they will be interred.  For many, it is Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia, while some are returned to hometowns.  Friends and family go to the funeral and grieve, and the fallen is given a 21-gun salute, and the mourners leave and go on with their lives.  But for the families, the emptiness remains long after they are given the folded flag.  And often, and way too quickly after the funeral, they are virtually forgotten.  And that is sad.  It is almost as if they are being told, “sorry for your loss” one day and, “who are you again?” another day.

Then today, I ran across an interactive feature on CNN’s site.  On one side, it has a map of the United States with buttons over the hometowns of the fallen; on the other side, there is an interchangeable map of Afghanistan or Iraq with similar buttons that show where each of the fallen was killed.  On either side of the map, you can click to expand and a list of names will appear, along with a picture of each of the fallen.  Personally, I think it is a wonderful feature that everybody should check out, because it is a reminder of the real price of the last decade plus.  I encourage you to click here and explore for yourself.  And if you know someone who was killed in action, do something to honor their memory as often as you can in whatever way you can.

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