I Keep Going Back to This and to a Soldier I Never Met

Soldiers from the 3d U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard) place flags in front of the gravesites in Arlington National Cemetary, Va., May 22, 2014, during "Flags In".  U.S. Army photo by Klinton Smith.

Soldiers from the 3d U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard) place flags in front of the gravesites in Arlington National Cemetary, Va., May 22, 2014, during “Flags In”. U.S. Army photo by Klinton Smith.

I love BBQs and family outings and I’m not one of those people who are constantly screaming about how “this holiday isn’t meant for the beaches and picnics” to shame my friends who don’t take the time to consider the real meaning of the day.

Okay, maybe I do a little screaming about it. I’m more frustrated with the emptiness on social media to throw out a patriotic meme that’s the same for Memorial Day, July 4th and Veteran’s Day and then wash your hands of it. Call it a day. You’ve done your duty as a citizen.

These memes just grate on my last nerve. I'm sure they're well-meaning but I wish people would just take the time to say a few words beyond "support our troops."

These memes just grate on my last nerve. I’m sure they’re well-meaning but I wish people would just take the time to say a few words beyond “support our troops.”

But I digress. Maybe I’ll save that one for Veteran’s Day. Basically, Memorial Day is important to me. I’m a U.S. Army Veteran. My husband is a retired and combat-disabled U.S. Navy Veteran. He deployed frequently over 20+ years.

I wanted to write something to celebrate the day but I keep going back to this article I wrote back in 2010. Not really an article but a “note” in Facebook. I’m going to share it with you four years later. I hope you don’t mind.

Thinking About a Soldier I Never Met

August 21, 2010

I think there are two great things about Facebook beyond it being a place where I can blab on about anything and everything. One is obviously the ability to keep up with people I care about. I can share pictures of the grandkids with my parents; I can find out my far-more-cooler-than-me niece wants one of her friends to “hmu” lol; and when my husband was in Iraq, Facebook was one of the only ways we were able to communicate a world apart.

But I also love being able to peek into my “friends” lives. Not in a creepy, stalking-type way, but status updates are sometimes very telling of a person’s character; the type of life they lead and their beliefs. Sometimes though, status updates are clearly just for fun and I love those, too! I learn a lot from you.

Just in the past week I’ve found out one of you is pregnant; one of you jokes that if the kid on the cul de sac had tequila, he would probably sell more lemonade at his little lemonade stand; one of you posted on your way into surgery to have yet another tumor removed from the cancer you are determined to fight with every power of your being; and several of you just got a new iPhone.

But there was one post from the past few days that I haven’t been able to shake. Monday, August 16 at around 7 a.m. one of you posted about a soldier who came home this week from Iraq.

Sgt. Jamal Rhett in an undated photo. Photo courtesy of U.S. Army Staff Sgt. (Ret.) Keith Francis.

Sgt. Jamal Rhett in an undated photo. Photo courtesy of U.S. Army Staff Sgt. (Ret.) Keith Francis.

His name is Specialist Jamal Rhett. A 24-year-old U.S. Army combat medic from New Jersey on his second tour in that country.

His family was there when he arrived at Dover Air Force Base Tuesday.

dover

I never met Spc. Rhett. I didn’t know who he was before I read your post. I believe he was one of your soldiers during his first tour to Iraq but I could be wrong about that. But I saw the pain in your loss. There wasn’t anything I could say to make it go away and honestly, I didn’t feel it was my place to try.

But I peeked in on you all week because I wanted to make sure you were okay. Just in case. I also wanted to learn more about this soldier who gave his life for me. So I did what anyone in 2010 would do, and I Googled him.

I found out Spc. Rhett was someone people counted on. He spent his childhood in Philadelphia and moved to New Jersey as a teenager. He stood up as a very positive role model in his community. High school administrators praised him for his passion to make a difference. His family talked of a young man who decided joining the Army was a way for him to follow his dream into the field of medicine.

A lot of people may not understand that, but as a U.S. Army veteran myself, I do understand. There are times when the path to your dream is hardly a straight line. Sometimes though, you find different dreams along the way. Spc. Rhett had a lot of friends. He was a good man. He was their brother. He was a fellow soldier. He was an excellent medic. I wish I had had the chance to meet him.

Spc. Jamal Rhett's Mother remembering her son after his death.

Spc. Jamal Rhett’s mother remembering her son after his death.

Our society depends on the success of soldiers like Spc. Rhett. We must not forget about him or any of our service members – some, who are on a fifth or sixth tour to either Iraq or Afghanistan – even if we read in the news that all combat troops have come home.

Spc. Jamal Rhett died August 15, 2010, after insurgents attacked his vehicle with grenades. He was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, Schofield Barracks, Hawaii. He was promoted to sergeant posthumously at his funeral.

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5 comments

  • Well said, Judith.

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    • Thank you, Lisa! I’m glad you enjoyed it. Hope you and your family have a good Memorial Day remembering your nephew.

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  • On this day we must pay our respects regardless of the rights or wrongs of going to war. RIP.

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  • After repinning several neat things you posted on Pinterest, I noticed your blog site listed and clicked the link interested to read an entry. This one stopped me dead in my tracks. As an proud Army Brat of a father that served 30 years in the US Army, and the sister-in-law to a formal Navy Medic who now suffers from PTSD, I applaud you. It disturbes me to see how most Americans simply celebrate our most important National Holidays as being a day to cook out and say “thanks” while seeming to be more concerned with a paid day off of work than teaching their children what the day truly stands for. I take time to sit and enjoy a meal with an elderly veteran, gather items for gift boxes of goodies for those serving overseas, collect and donate items for the local yard sales on base to help with construction of facilities for veteran use. I mail Christmas cards and gifts each year, make signs to hang up everytime deployed troops come home, anonymously pay for a meal in a restaurant just to say thanks. I feel it is my duty and an honor as an American to stand up and say thank you to those who volunteered their years and lives to protect our country and our freedom.

    I would just like to say ‘Thank You’ to both you and your husband for the sacrifices you both made to keep us safe throughout the days we lived free and nights that we slept, while quite often you could not. 🇺🇸

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    • Thank you, Melissa. I really appreciate that. Thank you for doing all you do, as well. Families understand. :)

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