Two important U.S. holidays that are often blurred together are Veteran's Day and Memorial Day. Veteran's Day was established to honor all those who have served in any branch of the U.S. Military. These courageous people put so much on the line to allow the rest of us to enjoy our lives, and though we cannot repay them, we owe them our gratitude. To borrow a phrase from President Lincoln, "It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this." Memorial Day, on the other hand, is set aside for the special purpose of remembering and giving thanks to those who never made it home; those whose remains lie under fields of white crosses around the world; those who, as Lincoln said, "gave the last full measure of devotion." It is a very solemn and holy day too often forgotten amidst the vacations and barbecues.
To honor Memorial Day this year we have asked one of our friends here at Dowdle to share their memory of a Veteran who, though now passed, continues to impact their life. We hope that as you read you will reflect on those heroes in your own life who have given everything in the service of their country.
When I was growing up, my life path was blessed to cross the life of Dennis "Denny" Taylor. He served multiple tours in Vietnam. During his last deployment, he was a Staff Sergeant. One Day, as he led his squad through a heavily forested area, one of the green soldiers decided to take a shortcut through an area of the jungle not cleared. He sent the rest of the squad ahead to bring the other soldier back. As he followed, the wayward soldier hit a tripwire to a claymore mine that Denny was straddling. The young man died in the blast. Denny's ravaged body was med-evac-ed. He lost his left leg, they rebuilt his right leg with pieces from his arms, and he carried shrapnel in his body for the rest of his life. He was sent stateside to heal, but it took years of hardship, struggle, and courage to make it home.
My first experiences with Denny were when he was my Scoutmaster. He was real. He molded all the young men in his circle with respect and love. We never saw him as handicapped. He was everything a young man could hope for in a role model. During my first year at Scout Camp, I suffered terribly with homesickness. He took me under his wing and helped me overcome my sadness and find joy in that time. Over the years at Scout Camp, he taught us about war but never glamourized it. He taught me the value of life, the responsibility of choice, and the principle of standing up for what was right. If the young men of our Scouting group were to tell their Denny Stories, it would fill volumes. Each of us felt like we had a special bond with him, and we did.
During a particularly dark and challenging point in my early 20's, my friend stepped in again. He reached out to me, changed his schedule, and took time to take me to swim laps every morning, and even with one leg, he could outswim me. I used to tease him that I couldn't figure out why he didn't swim in circles. More importantly were the conversations, the encouragement, and the friendship those times gave me. The last time I visited with Denny was during a quick trip home from college in 1985. I was with one of my roommates, and Denny was welcoming and warm as ever. As we left, my roommate said, "What a stud." "You have no idea, "I told him.
A year later, I received a call from my parents telling me that Denny had passed. I cried for days. He finally succumbed to injuries he suffered in Southeast Asia decades before. He should be on the wall in D.C., in my opinion. He is on the monument in the hearts of the hundreds of lives he influenced and the men he helped shape. That is how he would have wanted it, I am sure. I miss you, Denny. My life is infinitely better for the time you shared life's path with me.
We hope that you join us in taking time on this solemn day to honor those veterans who have passed. Those who do not have close connections to any such heroes in their own lives could consider learning about those who served from their communities or could even visit a military cemetery and lay down a few flowers of gratitude.
We at Dowdle hope you have a thoughtful Memorial Day and encourage you to share your gratitude.