car·riage re·turn

n. the lever or mechanism on a typewriter that would cause the cylinder on which the paper was held (the carriage) to return to the left margin of the page

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Thoughts before Memorial Day

Arlington National CemeteryOn 25 March,2004,a family in Texas lost their son. For a bunch of guys sitting in the Iraqi desert,we lost a young man about our own age,a guy with a soft heart and quiet maturity. When Casper left us late that morning,and while we sat all afternoon in the hot sun reflecting on his brief life,we had no idea what lay in store for each of us as individuals,or what his death might signify to us.

I didn’t know Casper very well. I had come to Echo Battery only a month before as an augment from Headquarters Battery to assist them in accomplishing their mission as a counter-fire artillery unit. I worked in Communications and Casper was in Motor Transport,which meant he wasn’t in my section. Because of that,I didn’t really begin to chat with Casper until we had touched down in Kuwait. Once I got to know him,however,I took a shining to the guy. He had a nice smile,liked to joke around,but would sweat alongside you all day until the assigned tasks was done. Working next to him pushed all of us to work harder.

It’s been over two years since Casper died,two years since I heard the gunshot and screams less than twenty feet away. None of those screams were Casper’s –he was mercifully spared the agony of dying,perhaps as a sort of inadequate compensation for being plucked from the opening moments of the very best years of his life. To this day I can still hear the pop of the rifle some nights when I close my eyes,sifting in and out of that one second when I didn’t know for an eternity.

On the one year anniversary of Casper’s passing,our Battery First Sergeant gathered up the vets,the guys who are still around from our Iraq deployment. He suggested that we tip a cold one for Casper that evening and remember the time we had together.

I’ve drank many a brew in Casper’s honor in the time since then,and I’ve spent many evenings remembering the few months I spent with Casper. Those memories always flow into thinking about the time I’ve had since his death –the time he never got to have,the time his family never got to have with him. There will never be children to call him “Daddy.”There were family members,a girlfriend,friends,and brothers-in-arms left behind to carry on his memory,to carry a piece of Casper that he would have otherwise given to his children.

I think about my loved ones:my family,my girlfriend,my friends,and the time we’ve gotten to share since March 25,2004. That day is a day I will never forget and will forever observe privately,because it was the day that the finite quality of life was tattooed into my brain.

Casper taught me a lesson in death that he could never have in life. But it doesn’t sit well with me that it took a young man losing his life in a seemingly meaningless war to teach me how fleeting life is,how quickly it can be snatched away,and the value of that individual existence. When I remember Casper,it is with a gratitude that I can never repay,and an overwhelming desire to hold my loved ones tightly just once more,lest the same happen to me.

James Casper,may you continue to rest in peace,and may those of you who read this have a pleasant Memorial Day weekend. Hug your loved ones,remember the sacrifices of those who are no longer with us,and travel safely.

Two Notes
Due to a technical glitch,the entry I wrote last Thursday for the following Friday entry remained private. I’ve published it now,availabe here.

As I will be on vacation in Chicago until Wednesday,regular posting here will resume Friday,2 June.

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