Memorial Day, A Reflection on Honor, Sacrifice, and Duty

Sometimes, I wonder if the sacrifices of our soldiers are forgotten because of time, the remoteness of many wars, and the volunteer status of our armed forces.  Memorial Day is a national holiday and a time for remembrance of those who gave their lives in order to preserve our freedoms.

The poem below was written by one of our alums, Joe DeCree.  As a veteran, Joe shares with us his remembrances of war, his fallen comrades, and Memorial Day.


The rain drips off the peak of my cap;

Speckles my vision.

The marching band plays in G Major but I hear only minor chords.

Old Glory passes by and I make the automatic but heartfelt salute.

I attend the ball games and barbeques

But I am not really there.

I want to leave so as not to bring down the party.

I am remembering. Remembering and feeling.

As I visit flag-adorned graves, I drift to other days.

The older I get, the more keenly I feel the sting that is Memorial Day.

The parade of faces and names begins again: Ox, Moge, Vaughn, Chief, and the rest.

All good men. All gone. All cut down violently.

Civilians cannot understand.

I go off by myself. In my mind, we prep for another patrol.

We kit up. We check comms. We return to that lethal headspace that our families suspect but don’t know.

I get the thumbs up from the team and we walk the walk again.

The enemy tries to surprise but we are too fast, too practiced.

Rifle fire, butt stroke, knife blades flashing, lethal hand strikes. We play that symphony again.

We sweep through.

I check my men. Ox, Moge, Vaughn, Chief. We are all here. They are fine.

Consolidate, prepare to repell, call it in. We are victorious because the only real victory is living through it with your brothers. Else is failure.

Politicians and civilians think otherwise.

Lord, Forgive them their ignorance. We die that they may keep it.

Academics pose irrelevant questions about the good men on the other side. They too have family.

I care not a whit. I neither mourn their losses nor revel in their death. Their death that is my fault.

What do academics know of death, life, and brotherhood? Such things are not in books. They are in gunfire.

I see my brothers thru the smokey veil now.  I try to walk through but cannot.

They go back to their patrol base and disappear into the rain as Old Glory passes by.

I smile the grim and sardonic smile of every grunt.

I have been left behind again. They go forward.

I will see them again next year.

Taps sounds. I am asked if I want another hot dog and which game I want to watch.

The meat is tasteless. I mechanically watch the game. The centerfielder is good.

Chief liked baseball, I recall.

Memorial Day-thank God it only comes once a year.

Major Joe DeCree retired from the U.S. Army after 21 years.  He was an 18A Special Forces officer, and also served in the Infantry and Intelligence. He served in Kosovo and Afghanistan, and in Iraq as a contract security operative for the US consulate in Basra. Following his retirement, he taught Army ROTC for 5 years and now teaches leadership at various institutions in Western Montana. His most recent degree is a Masters in Homeland Security from American Military University.



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