The last thing I saw was a disk of golden sun through a haze of smoke. In the few months I’ve been here, the sun and duty’s risk are the only constants.
The last thing I heard was the report of fire. Just one last wild spurring of colors made sound, shaping the hot blind earth into darkness.
The last thing I felt was an intake of breath, air drawing in deep. It lays warm in me, then stills. I thought nothing could reach me.
I never felt what hit me.I think that was close, surrounded by the savage heat that no longer burns, the fecund odor of sand and earth that reaches not my nostrils, the incredible silence. Oh God, why is it so quiet?
I look down on my form from above, whole but without body, thinking I must have a concussion, as this vision could not be real.
I close my eyes and recite the steps to field strip my AR. Bolt fully forward, remove the bolt carrier and the charging handle, and will unblinking eyes to clear my sight.
But the vision didn’t change.
They knock on my front door, with words that my wife’s ears and heart will have to accept without proof, but for their sound.
They watch her search their words for anything that can hold sanity together, with language that is within her understanding. But with the words she hears, she crumbles like fragile paper.
They gather up my things for her, a comb, a ring, a broken blade, a wallet photo of my Mom and Dad, their hair singed with ashen grey, where none before existed.
They send me home in a box, draped with a flag, in clothing I had never worn.
My body is buried in the late summer, the corn in fervent zeal, bowing before behemoth combines that will pull it into an oblivious end.
My name is spoken reverently, a soft force that drowns out the protesters. It takes everything my Father has in him, not to confront. They know not what courage and duty really mean, their nothings as irremediable as my everything.
My wife says my name silently over and over until it takes shape and form, then falls into a sob as taps are played. The sounds drift up to echo in heaven.
But sometimes an echo is heardMy gravestone sits as if listening and waiting, the cemetery vacant. The trees have long since turned gold.
My wife sits with my last letter, worn from the many times she’s read it, the sun slanting through trees, quiet light upon the dying leaves. She reads of the restless moments of every last memory, taking what comfort she can from my words.
My words to her, of my love, of my fears, of the child she carries. The more she reads, the less she sees, as the writing becomes fainter, words wet with tears, until the paper itself crumbles away.
The paper is as fragile as she has become strong.The cemetery is old now, my grave now surrounded by others, so many others. My eyes live on in a child I never met. My name lives on, on a stone in a place forever solemn, in a picture, in a flag.
I am everywhere, in memorial. I am here, in a tombstone, in the flag I hope you salute more than once a year. I am part of the earth beneath you, of the wild, strong blood that formed this land, of all that lived, and should live, in freedom.
I am dust in the wind, the hard roots of the past, the sound of earth as it falls on a pine box, the broken body of the past, the invisible footprints of patriots.
I am your father, your son, your daughter, your mother.
I gave my life in service to my country. I am a memory that begins and ends with what is left, stakes in the hard ground on which to peg our history.When the last thing you see is that disk of golden sun in the sky, remember me. Remember my sacrifice.
For I am everywhere, in the trees, in the wind, under your feet in a land that’s still free.
You never knew me but remember me always.