It's your cousin here in St. Louis. I wish I knew where to start this letter, but when it comes down to a time such as this, I suppose that it really doesn't matter. I know we haven't seen each other in ten or so years, since you made a career of the military and all, but I want you to know how much you mean to all of us, and how much we'll miss you.
My last visual memory of you is from Grandma's funeral back in 1997. I was nearly catatonic with grief most of that day, but I vividly remember you in your Marine dress blues. I remember how you stood at the rear of the chapel before the service began, your uniform arranged in perfect presentation, crisp crimson lines on deep blue, regalia placed upon your chest without a millimeter's imprecision. You balanced your white cap with perfect symmetry on your forearm as you held the solid presence and reserve we all needed that day.
As the service began, our whole family gathered in a small room to shield us from the finality of closing Grandma's casket. Do you remember that? As the doors to the room closed, I witnessed something I will never forget - your white-gloved hands holding the shoulders of your parents, the sound of your sobbing, your tears falling down your heroic face and landing on the tops of your impeccably shined shoes as we all mourned as a family. To anyone who says that the military turns people into savage murderers, I offer this image.
This week, David, we are mourning our loss of you.
My memories of childhood summers are dotted with you in the pictures. I recall the nighttime jug-fishing excursions with your dad and my brother (I was always left behind), flying leaps from a dock at the lake house in backwoods Missouri, playing endless rounds of cards with Grandma, hitting all the landmarks in St. Louis when you came to town. I can still hear you, at about the age of fourteen or so, near tears as you pleaded with your dad not to make you hurt that monstrous fish. I remember it all.
After your years in the Marine Corps, you went into the Army National Guard. This latest tour was your second in Afghanistan. Your unit from South Carolina came home earlier this month; you chose to stay behind. I know you chose to stay and help that unit from New York not because of any beliefs you held about this war, or about your service being the patriotic thing to do, or for any reason that the propaganda might offer. You stayed because you wanted to help some guys out - guys just like you, the kid I remember.
I found out today that your unit came under attack with small arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades. I don't even want to think about it. I want to believe that you were not the last one standing. I want to believe that you went quickly. Most of all, I want to know that God, in His divine power, let you feel all of the love from your lifetime all at once, carrying you on to the next place.
The one peace I have right now is that Grandma has her David back in her arms. Someday, God-willing, we'll all be together again just like we were at the lake. Until then, please know how much I love you and how immensely honored I am to have been able to call you family.