Several years ago, my husband and I started a tradition of visiting Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery on our regular trips to San Diego. We found that this was a good way to put life into perspective and to honor the many lives sacrificed for our country. We enjoy so many freedoms, liberties, and rights, that others around the world do not, but it’s easy to be cynical and take them for granted. Walking around Fort Rosecrans, you find markers of those who served in wars past, but on recent trips, it’s been the newer grave markers that demand our attention.
If you saw the movie American Sniper, then you may remember Marc Alan Lee, the Navy SEAL whose last letter home was grave and contemplative having just celebrated a Fourth of July fighting in Iraq. He writes, “I think the truth to our greatness is each other. Purity, morals and kindness, passed down to each generation through example.” Visiting his grave seems personal considering he ends his letter with a plea to “pass on the kindness, the love, the precious gift of human life to each other so that when your children come into contact with a great conflict like we are now faced with here in Iraq, that they are people of humanity, of pure motives, of compassion.” Lee died in Iraq weeks after this letter was sent.
Stumbling upon Jennifer Moreno’s grave, the anguish of loved ones is palpable, evidenced by the number of flowers at her grave. Moreno was an Army Nurse serving in Afghanistan where she received two conflicting final orders. One to aid a wounded soldier and the other to stay put because the area was laced with roadside bombs. She did the former. Another soldier, Jason Paton was killed in action just two months before he was to get married back home. His dad received the wedding invitation the same day he saw two Army Officer’s approaching his door with news of his son’s death.
At the grave of Mark Metherell stood a lonely beer in the grass. I imagine someone would give anything to share a last drink with him. Metherell was a former Navy SEAL who was working as a contractor when he was killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq. Also killed by a roadside bomb was Alejandero Dominguez who was just days from returning to the United States to reunite with his wife and young daughter. Navy SEAL Darrick Benson also left behind a wife and child. He had his two-year-old son’s plastic airplane with him in his pack when the helicopter he was flying in was shot down in Afghanistan.
Veterans Day doesn’t necessarily bring to mind the obligation to raise children of humanity with pure motives and compassion. Yes, we remind our kids that Daddy served our country, and we teach them to say to Vets, “Thank you for your service.” But life so quickly transitions, come November, to the consuming aspects of being a mom, especially as the holiday season quickly approaches.
But this is why I value our time spent meandering through Fort Rosecrans. Here are Americans like me who were busy with similar life obligations—getting married and raising kids—but who chose to first serve our country. They were young, purpose-driven individuals with great futures ahead of them. They remind me that it’s a luxury to be a busy mom, to make a grocery list for Thanksgiving dinner, and to find those perfect gifts for Christmas. I feel a duty to remember and give thanks for their personal sacrifices, to honor them and to celebrate our nation.