It was the afternoon of February 28th, 2013. It was the first time I had ever written out the names on the wall and was in Burnett Plaza in downtown Ft Worth. It was a day full of emotion on so many levels and much of it was expected. I knew I would be emotional near the end of the names because the dream was becoming a reality. I knew I would be emotional the last few names days because of the work I put into it. It was emotional on so many other levels as well that I had never expected.
About 2:00 or 3:00 in the afternoon I was writing at the wall and I sensed a man standing next to me. He was a young man around the age of 30, fit and professionally dressed in business casual clothes. He most likely worked in one of the office buildings nearby. He caught my attention because he was standing much closer to the wall than most. Most would stand 4-5 feet behind me or down the wall away from me and because of that I never saw them as I was focused on the wall. This man was standing closer simply because the names he wanted to see where near where I was standing.
I turned to acknowledge him and he pointed to a name and said something that I heard as, ‘He was a Lieutenant.’ I looked at the name and it was Cody Childers. There were two Cody’s on the wall in that area and I reminded myself when I was memorizing that they were both Lance Corporals. It made it easier to remember those names. So I replied to him, ‘I am pretty sure he was a Lance Corporal.’ Then he said it again matter of factly but I heard it differently, ‘I was a Lieutenant.’ So then I thought, ‘Oh, he was a Lt. and served with him.’ I turned to grab my book to look up Cody’s rank. Maybe I was wrong…
Nope…there it was in my book.
1236 Lance Corporal Cody S. Childers
I turned to the man and showed him my book and I said as respectfully as I could, ‘Sir, in my book it says he was a Lance Corporal.’ That is when this man looked me squarely in the eye and made it clear what he was saying.
I looked up from my book and our eyes locked. His eyes were as red as they could be without bursting with tears. The expression on his face was as if he had just relived Cody’s death. He pointed to his chest and said, ‘No. I was his Lieutenant.’
I can’t describe my feeling. I thought he had been saying, ‘He was a Lieutenant’ but instead he was saying, ‘I was his Lieutenant.’ I didn’t know what to say but in a span of 2 seconds not only did I get the 4 words of what he was saying, ‘I was his Lieutenant’ I got the meaning behind those words:
‘I knew this guy. This guy reported to me. He was a friend. He died.’
In that moment I simply stood there with the book in my hand and before I could say a word in reply he briskly walked away and as he did he said, ‘I’m calling his mom.’
I am guessing that he went to call Cody’s mom to tell her that a stranger had taken the time to remember Cody.
I continued writing at the wall and an hour or so later the Lt was back and this time with other men who had served and lost friends on the wall. I asked one of them, ‘Do you know anyone on this wall?’ He replied, ‘I know a lot and started pointing to names’ and we had a brief conversation. My eyes made it back over to the Lt. and he stood with his eyes bloodshot red staring at the wall for what seemed like an hour as I continued to write.
As I neared the completion of the wall my plan had always been to salute the wall, but with these men standing next to me who lost friends in combat I felt so inadequate taking the spotlight and saluting the wall. I walked over to the Lt and said, ‘Sir, when I finish here in about 45 minutes I am going to salute the wall. If you are still here I would be honored if you did that with me.’
He kindly nodded his head and said, ‘Yeah, ok if I am here I will.’ It should have been no surprise to me that after I told him this he quietly blended into the crowd and left. He didn’t want the spotlight either and by the time I saluted the wall he was long gone.
‘I was his Lieutenant.’