Reflections on Memorial Day 2020

“Boldness is the beginning of action. But fortune controls how it ends.”- Democritus

Because of everything going on in the country and world, have had more time to think and contemplate. Multiple tours overseas to Iraq and Afghanistan resulted in countless friendships and experiences, but also as is the nature of war and the profession of arms, the loss of some of those friends.

No matter how you choose to observe the Memorial Day weekend, which commemorates the fallen in our nation’s wars,  the purpose is to remember and honor those no longer with us. I captured these images a year ago when the National Memorial commemorating all military lives lost in operations conducted after 9/11 brought its mobile display to Ralston Arena, home of the Omaha Lancers. They are forever the ages depicted in the images below. They shall not grow old…

One individual in particular, Captain Joel Cahill, grew up right down the road in La Vista and graduated from La Vista High in 1989 before he embarked on a successful Army career that ultimately led him from the enlisted ranks to commissioned officer via University of Nebraska to Iraq for a second tour in 2005 with the 3rd Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division. He was one of my brothers on a close-knit brigade staff until duty called and he took command of Baker Company, 1st Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment- the “Audie Murphy Company.” While leading his company from the front as he always did, Joel’s life was taken by a roadside bomb on November 6. Of all I knew who did not return home to their families, Joel’s loss makes the least sense- he seemed destined to wear general’s stars and was the best Soldier of all of us.

Some of the fallen here, I knew more than others. But all of them personally touched me in some way, shape or form.

Whether it was the driver who made sure there was a cold Red Bull waiting for me on every mission we went on as his vehicle commander and who we nicknamed “McLovin” after the Superbad character, which was a popular movie during the Surge deployment.

Or the fellow Citadel graduate who was a year ahead of me in 1st Battalion. Or the good friend who I bar-hopped with in Aggieville- Manhattan, Kansas- and deployed with to Bosnia as young lieutenants/peace keepers in 1997, only for him to return to active service a decade-plus later because he felt a calling to do his part- then lost his life in that volunteer service.

Or the former ROTC Advanced Camp platoon mate who I lost touch with after Fort Bragg in 1993, only to reconnect with him…when I saw his name announced as one of the deaths in a grim fight in Fallujah in November, 2004.

Or the young Civil Affairs soldier who was killed a short time into her deployment, but whose smiling photo on the wall of honor in our brigade headquarters haunted me well after we redeployed, a life taken far too soon. A scholarship in her honor provides young people from her home state of Wisconsin with opportunities to serve others as she did.

Or the seasoned NCO who could have saved himself from his burning Bradley, but instead doomed himself to certain death to free trapped men inside. A true hero in every sense of the word. “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”- John 15:13

Or the fellow Pentagon staffer who handed off a project he had been working on to me as he headed off to Afghanistan for a tour, and then likely bigger things. And because of a fluke accident on that deployment, he is forever a major.

While not all of them died under enemy direct fire or from improvised explosive devices, their loss is no less devastating to their families and those who loved and knew them best. The fallen are all sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, fathers, mothers, uncles and aunts. They are all of us.

We may not all agree about the nature of their sacrifice, but none of us should ever forget what they gave up so that we could all have the freedom and choice continue our own pursuits.

– Kirk Luedeke, Omaha, NE; May 24, 2020

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Memorial Day repost- What Saving Private Ryan can teach us about Sacrifice

Editor’s note- Published this back in November for Veteran’s Day 2016, and bringing it back for Memorial Day.- KL

I had a chance to watch Saving Private Ryan again over the weekend for the first time since it came out in 1998, which might be surprising to some. The reality is- after doing multiple combat tours in Iraq (with the 3rd and 1st Infantry Divisions and 1st Cavalry Division) and another in Afghanistan (again with the 1st Cavalry Division) from 2004-2014, the movie wasn’t high on my list of things to see again because I didn’t know how I would react to some of the visceral images and a host of emotions the film was sure to evoke.

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