Memorial Day

I was going to write a lengthy narrative about Brian C., a guy I knew while in the service.  He was 19 when he died, the victim of a drunk driving accident.  To this day, I don’t know if he was intoxicated and driving, if he was an intoxicated passenger (with a drunk driver), or if their car was struck by someone else who was intoxicated. Instead, I’ll keep it short and to the point; I think that he’d appreciate that.

In truth, I barely knew Brian, beyond the fact that he was a heavy drinker; he was otherwise a nice guy.  He was one of the first people outside of my officemates to introduce himself to me, and always greeted me in passing, regardless of whatever else was happening.  He did not pass away outright; he lingered for several days before his family decided to take him off of life-support on Christmas Day.  And I will probably always remember the asinine “speech” that my unit commander gave to us where he literally mocked Brian’s manner of death – an odd and aggravating event, given that he never once bothered to crack down on the excessive drinking within the unit.  I’m not glorifying drunken driving, mind you, nor am I trivializing the damage that it causes.  I just don’t see a need to make fun of someone’s death just days after it occurs.

I have a photo of Brian – a group photo of him and about four other unit members – that I recovered from a packet of old papers that one of his roommates chose to discard.  It’s an odd photo of a half-dozen young men in T-shirts and briefs, with alcohol-in-hand, taken on a random Friday.  (I know it was a Friday evening because that’s when the weekend’s drinking began.  Everyone in the photo is still too coherent for it to have been taken on a Saturday.) I toyed with posting a copy of it here, if only to provide a face to the story, but maybe it’s best that I don’t.

In a way, that photo has always felt significant to me, as if the mere possession of it created an obligation to carry Brian’s story forward.  If that’s true, then I’ve been a bad steward, as I’ve only shared his tale a few times in the three decades since his death.  Today, therefore, I’ve decided to pass it on.  Occasionally, I’ll pull that photo out of my photo-book and think about that guy who was nice to me when few strangers were, and wonder where he’d be today if his life hadn’t been cut so tragically short.

I realize that this is not your typical Memorial Day tale, but I wanted to share it anyway.


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