Wednesday, July 18, 2007

IED takes Charlie Battery Soldier

Today I write with a heavy heart. Today I write about the loss of SGT John R. Massey and how we as soldiers must deal with the loss and move on, seemingly without properly showing him the respect he deserves. I write about how there is not enough time in combat to truly honor the sacrifice your brother made. How every action you do must honor and cherish them with the time you do have, because the war goes on. Our mission continues, bad guys are still trying to harm us and we must put the loss aside and refocus to keep it from happening again. As much as I hate it, as much as I have come to despise the words the past three days; we must “Soldier On!”

I woke up with distant knocks on many doors. I remember being annoyed that the messenger had to be so loud and obnoxious in the middle of the night. I huffed and pulled a pillow over my head. Suddenly there was a knock at my door. I answered to an over-excited soldier talking so fast it was hard to make out his words. “Meeting… now… gazebo”. I started getting dressed and my buddy came over to ask what was going on. I told him what I knew. As we headed to the meeting together, a million things ran through my mind. I feared I already knew, but tried to convince myself it was something else; anything else. It was dark and the moon was hidden. As we walked around a corner, a dim light cast a somber glow about the alley. More soldiers emerged from the darkness in front of us, beside us and crunching rocks behind us said we were not alone. My stomach turned as the likelihood that this was anything but bad news was sharply subsided. Rounding the final turn to the gazebo, all doubt was removed. Dozens of soldiers had already gathered. I found myself searching through the darkness for familiar faces and the voices of friends. In my mind I ran down a list and desperately checked off as many as I could.

The commander called us around and being close, I took a knee. Still too dark to see, his voice was his only expression. In a broken voice he told us Sergeant Massey paid the ultimate sacrifice earlier that night. Sounds of muted cries and sniffling could be heard as our captain asked for prayer. Afterwards, he explained that a roadside bomb took him from us. He spoke for a bit, his voice soft yet secure in a way I had never heard. Our First Sergeant came forth and also offered words of encouragement and support in a way that showed compassion and remorse. His voice crackled as he spoke and I hurt for him. His love of Charlie Battery is evident in everything he does and everything he says. Though you couldn’t see his face, you could hear his pain with every word.

On the day that the rest of the soldier’s crew returned to base, Charlie Battery stood by to welcome them home. In the middle of the afternoon; for most of us it was midnight. Many of us climbed out of bed and headed down to be with them. Some of us rode but, some walked two miles in temperatures over 125 degrees to be there when they came in. Almost everyone was there, suffering through blistering heat and burning sun to pay respect to the crew of our fallen brother. As they rolled in, we all went over and embraced them. I can’t really explain it, but sometimes you run out of words. Sometimes a handshake, a hug and a look in the eyes is all you have. The crew was exhausted, mentally and physically. Some of the other crews took care of the weapons; others took care of their vehicles; everyone doing something to ease the burdens of the returning crew.

The memorial service was extremely tough for me. Many times the ceremony brought tears, not only for the loss of a friend I didn’t know well enough, but to his teammates and best friends. To hear them speak of the love they felt for each other was heartbreaking. His Team Leader paused several times as the words refused to come out.

He spoke of John spending endless hours on the gun and refusing to change places stating, “If anything happened to you, I’d never forgive myself knowing it should have been me.”

That’s the kind of soldier we lost. “Infantry to the bone”, he’d say.

His chief spoke of times when they’d have to stop, they would be far ahead of the rest of the convoy and “on their own.” He mentioned grabbing a weapon and climbing in the turret with John and helping him search for bad guys. He stated he did this for two reasons; one he said was because it helped his gunner scan for danger. Two, he goes on, was because he felt safer exposed to the enemy with John covering his back than to be surrounded by the armor of his vehicle. Back to back, he describes, they searched for our enemy in the darkness.

Many months ago I said I would never write about the injury or death of my brothers. Maybe I was na├»ve to believe that. Maybe I just wasn’t sure exactly what I meant when I wrote that.

I do not write today to express his death. I write to express how we as a battery have pulled together and done our best to honor and respect one of our own. Whether you knew him as a close friend or only in passing, he left a smile on your face. John will not just be greatly missed; he will be greatly remembered. We honor him much like he would honor one of us. We weep for him, for his family and friends. We smile at his memory and then we soldier on.