Remembering the Families of Fallen Soldiers

 Photo by Spc. Kevin Kornaus, US Army

Photo by Spc. Kevin Kornaus, US Army

In 2011, 417 United States Service Members lost their lives in Afghanistan.  One of them was a 21-year-old Army Specialist who left behind grieving parents and a 19-year-old pregnant widow.

I did not know this particular Soldier or his family, but their sacrifice is forever etched upon my heart.  It was the day we brought our second child home from the hospital that my own Soldier was called upon to serve as a Casualty Assistance Officer (CAO) for his interment. 

As a CAO, my husband's responsibilities included coordination with the loved ones as they travel to Washington DC, helping guide them through the process of laying their loved one to rest.  He rendered honors as the fallen Soldier arrived at the airport, escorted the family through the burial ceremony Arlington National Cemetery, and fastidiously guarded the morale and welfare of that Soldier's family while in the area. 

The first time he served as a CAO, it was for the family of a WWII Airman who's remains were brought back to the United States after being identified through DNA testing, and it was his pleasure to serve the family who had long since processed this loss.  It was a beautiful ceremony, with love and gratitude for finally bringing home a long-lost brother.

But this second time was much more complicated. And while it was still a beautiful ceremony, the grief was very fresh as this young widow and her extended family had only begun to process their loss and look out toward life without their loved one.  That kind of raw grief stays with a person, and inevitably is shared by those who bear witness to it.

Each year our own child is a bit bigger as he climbs onto my husband's lap for our Memorial Day Tradition. As he repeats the names of those who we have personally known and lost to war, I can't help but remember the day we brought him home, expanding our family in numbers and love.  That day, and all Memorial Days, will forever be intertwined with a bittersweet memory of my husband's call to serve in a heartbreaking, though vital duty -- taking care of the families of the fallen.

Please take a moment today to think of ALL of the men and women who have given a great sacrifice for Our Country.  Memorial Day isn't merely about military service, but is specifically for those who have lost their lives fighting for our country.  And as we remember them, please remember that the sacrifice of their lives is shared by many and does not end with their deaths.

Victoria McCollum

Victoria McCollum is a birth and postpartum doula and owner of Doulas of Fredericksburg, in Fredericksburg, Virgina. She resides there with her husband and three precocious sons.