02 June 2008

The last full measure of devotion (updates below)

The President just, in a short ceremony, presented the Medal of Honor to the parents of a fallen soldier.

SPC Ross McGinnis laid it all down 4 Dec 06, when he threw himself on a grenade in a Humvee in Baghdad.

He was a Private First Class then, and 19 years old. There are four men alive today because of the choice one young soldier made, in a split second that probably stretched forever.

It seems, from the news article, that McGinnis was not cut out to be a student. He struggled in school, within walls, behind a desk. But in the end, he found a place where he belonged. His father saw it.

“He was more reserved and more confident and seemed to stand a lot taller, although he didn’t grow any while he was in the Army,” his father said. “He was a man. Unfortunately, we never really got to know him as a man. He was a child when he left, he got to visit with us a couple times, then he was gone.”

I cannot imagine the courage, devotion and outright love it took for that young man, in that second that lasts forever, to decide to lay down all the years, days and moments that he had left, so that the other men in the vehicle could have all of their remaining years, days and moments. Trying put oneself into McGinnis' boots at that second makes one feel very small. And very, very thankful.

I know, in a the detached way that we all know these things, that his parents are crushed. I'm certain they are proud, but all the pride in the world can't make up for an empty seat at the table on Thanksgiving. But at the very moments his family looks at the empty table every years and the grief threatens to pull them under, I hope they look at the Medal on the mantel and realize that somewhere, there are four other families who look at a man at their table, and whose gratitude is the only thing in the world equal to the grief of the McGinnis family.

Men do not fight for flag or country, for...glory or any other abstraction. They fight for one another.
-William Manchester, Goodbye Darkness