Let Freedom Ring

Hawkeye: “I know why I am crying, I watched my friend die and now I’m crying because he’s gone but I’ve watched hundreds of soldiers die before. Why didn’t I cry for any of them?”

Colonel Blake: “I don’t know. All I know is what they taught me at Command School and that is there are two rules of war. Rule number one is ‘young men die.’ And rule number two is ‘doctors can’t change rule number one.’”

–From the television series M*A*S*H which ran for eleven years (1972-1983) and depicted the day-to-day lives of doctors in the 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital (MASH) stuck in the middle of the Korean war.

Twenty-year old Marine, Lance Corporal David A. Mendez Ruiz was laid to rest Friday, November 25, 2005 at the Ohio Western Reserve National Cemetery having died in combat in Iraq. Hours before his burial, a service was held at Bethel Temple Assembly of God in Parma, Ohio where David had spent his elementary school days (Bethel Christian Academy) with my three daughters. I was there with my wife and children as were teachers, parents and students from the past. Though the event is more then six months past, the images are still heavy in my mind. The Fourth of July will forever now bring these thoughts forth for me. On that particular November day, I was reminded how fortunate we are as a nation that young men and women step forward to protect our country and the people that live and breathe under that flag each and every day.

Testimonies at the service from friends and family stirred many memories and I was caught up in so many ironies and observations that I was on “sensory overload” from the minute we entered the doors.

Maybe I’m looking to remind you how blessed and fortunate we all are. Maybe I’m trying to salve my own fears and sadness. Maybe I feel a duty to reflect my “take on things” because I feel it is the least I can do in gratitude for the sacrifices made by this boy for our country. In any event, indulge me for a moment as I share my thoughts. I hope you find a pearl or two to put in your pocket by the time you reach my biography.

Before the service began, two Marines stood at full attention at either end of the casket before the altar. There were roughly eight or 10 of them in the lobby and about every quarter-hour, they rotated the “watch” in a stirring ceremony that included a slow, deliberate salute and a synchronized routine. It delivered such a mixed bag of pride and sorrow to the onlookers that the room fell silent each time the rotation occurred. What an honor it is to be an American! What sacrifice our soldiers provide on our behalf! As these boys sat statue-still, shoulder to shoulder through the service, their precision and discipline was so impressive that I am sure many a young boy watching them was inspired about the future and many an adult felt more secure about the strength and safety of our nation. After the service I shook a few of their hands and simply said, “Thank you.” To the man, each nodded and said, “You’re welcome, sir.” They knew exactly what I meant and their eyes said, “Thank you for saying that.”

Sitting directly in front of me was David’s life long buddy, Brandon Joffre. Before the actual service began many of the attendees were reacquainting themselves after years of being apart. The din created by those greetings floated around Brandon like a hazy cloud but he seemed to inhale none of it. He simply stared straight ahead, his jaw locked, his eyes searching. When the service began this young man quietly sobbed from deep within in such heart rendering sincerity that I couldn’t take my eyes off of him. His mother put a hand on his shoulder and he leaned softly to her with great dignity and then quietly excused himself from the room.

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