I have created this blog to hopefully inspire average, everyday Americans to do their part in supporting our troops by being “An American Worth Dying For.” If you are new to the site, please read oldest to newest.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Am I Worth Dying For?

On June 24, 2005 I buried a boy. I buried a man. I buried someone’s brother and son. I buried an unborn child’s father. I buried a Marine. I buried an American hero. I buried Lance Corporal Chad Maynard.

I didn’t actually bury him. I just had the honor of carrying him to his grave in my antique horse-drawn hearse. You see, I own and operate Wellington Carriage Company. For the past four years we have been donating our service for soldiers killed in action.

At the time, he was the second American hero I had the honor to serve in such a way. The first was Staff Sergeant Justin Vasquez. I didn’t know Chad Maynard, but I had known Justin Vasquez since he was a young boy. I watched him grow from a scrawny pup to a charismatic, hard working waiter and then to an Army Staff Sergeant.

When Justin was killed by an IED on his second deployment to Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, I was understandably saddened. But I was also very proud. I believed in my heart that Justin died defending all 525 residents of our little town of Manzanola, in southeastern Colorado. He was our local hero, who died defending his home, his family, his buddies, his school, his town and all the little old ladies like me in it.

It was two weeks later when I was asked to escort Marine Lance Corporal Maynard to his grave that the reality of war and the shame of my ignorance hit me.

It is a rare occasion that I am able to sit in on a service. Usually I stand outside the chapel with the horse and coach. On that day I had a helper who offered to stand outside so I could listen in on Chad’s service. I heard sad and funny stories about him. Like the story his sister told of him. About when they were little kids playing house and she said, “let’s pretend I died.” As she lay there pretending to be dead she opened her eyes to find Chad crying. “What’s wrong?” she asked.

“I don’t want you to die” he cried.

I listened to his father, grandfather and cousins tell stories of his pranks, his dreams and his achievements. I walked out of the service thinking, "somebody lost a son and a brother that meant the world to them."

As I pulled my big truck and trailer out of the cemetery, into Friday afternoon traffic, that's when my eyes were opened. Everyday Americans, in a hurry to get to where they are going, honked and cursed as I held up traffic trying to pull on to the busy street. All I could think of was that these people have no clue, and probably didn’t give a damn, about the pain and sacrifice that I had just witnessed within those cemetery gates.

It was then that it hit me. A stranger died for me and all the other ungrateful people I was sharing the road with. Chad Maynard didn’t know me or the millions of others he died for, but he did it anyway.

The realization slapped me square in the face. Even though my own nephew had been serving in Iraq for seven months, even though a hometown boy had been killed, I still thought the war was not my problem. It was literally a world away.

I cried the entire 180 miles to my home. And I asked myself, “What have I ever done that was worth a stranger dying for me?” I didn’t have an answer then, so I continue to ask myself every day, “What can I do to be an American worth dying for?”

Copyright 2009 Lorraine Melgosa

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

What a poignant and soul searching question you ask. It takes me back to a place in time that I am ashamed of yet try to remember as often as possible. During Desert Storm, I was stationed at Ft Rucker, AL. My reserve unit replaced active duty soldiers who had been shipped overseas. One morning at breakfast, the others sitting at my table were complaining about the food and it occurred to me (my brother was overseas, he had changed his military job specialty in order to do so) that our buddies were overseas being shot at while we were sitting here complaining about our food. I voiced this opinion and the mood sombered quite a bit. I try to keep that perspective in mind even now as I go about my day to day life, but it does not always happen. Thanks so much for seeking to remind us of what is really at stake here in the real world.