Letter from a Soldier

052821C Afg Ltr Birds Faln Warr 2007  (Used as Words of Meditation at Mountain Light Unitarian Universalist Church in Ellijay, GA, for the Memorial Day weekend service in 2021.)

To honor Memorial Day, we share a soldier’s letter. 

In August of 2007, an American soldier serving in Operation Enduring Freedom, awoke on one of his first days of service in Afghanistan to participate in a Fallen Warrior Ceremony to honor a soldier killed in combat the day before.  This was his first such ritual, but he would participate in many during his tour of duty.  He wrote the following letter home:    

Dear Family and Friends,

We lost a brother yesterday.  In communion, we held a Fallen Warrior Ceremony early this morning at Bagram Air Field. 

We soldiers gathered slowly by ones and twos, forming a long line on one side of the main road through the base.  Heads were high and quiet, but for a few murmured regards between comrades.  Our attention turned inward toward reflection. 

Dawn promised a bright blue sky for later.  The sun rose, and the horizon lifted and stretched to form the outline of the mountain ridges that make the northern arc around Bagram.  The constant desert wind, soft in the morning, rustled the trees. 

Surprisingly loud masses of tiny, precious birds hopped and flitted by the thousands in the branches.  I was grateful for their lively, busy chatter. 

Shaded, camouflage uniforms created hazy outlines and blurred slow movements.  Salutes were few.  The thin morning light made it hard to distinguish ranks, and on this morning, distinctions among us were not the point. 

His flag-wrapped casket approached on the open bed of a dusty Army truck, headed toward the airfield for that soldier’s final flight home. 

Hundreds of individual salutes, quickly raised, firmly held, and gently lowered, flowed together to create a slow, progressive wave as his truck passed the long, silent line. 

Then we broke for morning physical training and the business of the day. 

We are as busy as those birds, but more from sense of purpose compared to their instinctive habits. 

Throughout the morning, handshakes were firmer.  Greetings were warmer.  Salutes were crisper.  Shouts of “Hooah” came from deeper in the chest.  The rituals are ever relevant, because the reality is ever present. 

We lost a brother. 

We know we will lose more. 

Grace and peace,

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