The lessons I have learned from my time with the Afghanistan Memory Wall could fill a book or two. But one that I definitely think is worth mentioning is that of being conscious of what your fellow man is going through.
Two days ago I stood at Chase Field, the home of the Arizona Diamondbacks and wrote out the ranks and names of the 2,200+ heroes who paid the ultimate sacrifice in Afghanistan. When I write the first name ‘Master Sgt Evander Andrews’ and begin the wall each time I never know what to expect. In a sense I just stand there in my own world blocking out to an extent what is going on around me and write.
I never have expectations of what will occur during the next 10-12 hours. I do not anticipate any reaction and I do not require any reaction. Although I am doing this wall for others I am not dependent upon a reaction or support from others to feel the project is worthwhile. There is freedom in that perspective for life in general and certainly true here. With that said, the support and reaction from others has been overwhelming.
Writing on the wall at the Diamondbacks game a 6’5” and 275 big guy came up to me with tears in his eyes. He must have been 27 or 28. He tapped me on the shoulder and when I turned around he just said, ‘Thank you. I have friends on wall. Thank you.’
Not long after that another young man approached but he wasn’t a subtle. No sooner had I turned around to see who was approaching he wrapped his arms around me as if he was a line backer just making it to the quarterback . I stood there surrounded by 40 strangers hugging a man I had never seen . He pulled away and he was a slim 23 or 24 year old with the hair cut that said, ‘I am a Marine.’ He simply said, ‘I was there.’ I asked if he had friends on the wall and he said, ‘3’ and walked away holding his head.
Another man approached and asked where the name ‘Terry Varnadore’ was on the wall. I replied, ‘Chief Warrant Officer Terry Varnadore?’ He knodded yes and was taken aback that I knew his friends rank. I said, ‘He will be around 1550.’ We found the name and he went silent. He simply stood there in silence. His girlfriend was behind him and neither of them could have been older than 30. He was lean and fit and no doubt had the military look. His silent stare at the name ‘Terry Varnadore’ told me he knew him well. It never ceases to amaze me at how quickly eyes can turn red and fill with tears at this wall. I took several steps back to give him his privacy, as I knew he didn’t want to talk. He was in a trance as he became a statue and his eyes burning a hole through Terry’s name.
Later, a Marine recruiter named Brandon Kidd approached the wall and asked where Jonathan Davis’s name was. I pointed it out and by now you can see the trend and know what occurred. He got choked up and said, ‘I can’t think about Jonathan without smiling. Just an awesome guy. I was supposed to be on this deployment with him. I was supposed to be there but he told me to stay behind and be a recruiter because it was better for me career.’ You could sense when he said, ‘I was supposed to be there.’ There was something in his voice that wondered if things would have been different if he had been.
Finally at the end of that day a young man approached and asked where his father’s name was on the wall – 1SGT Bobby Mendez. I explained his father served in Iraq and this was Afghanistan. Instead of turning him away though, I asked him if he would write his father’s name on the wall to honor him. This young man gladly accepted and stood there and very carefully and neatly wrote his father’s name. He was smiling ear to ear as he walked away and knew his father was recognized.
These are just a few of the stories and there is a lesson here. None of these people came out to see the wall. They came out to see a baseball game and were caught off guard by the wall. They were just there and again that is the lesson. Take a look around you. Notice the people at the baseball game, gas station, grocery store and walking downtown. Which one of these people could instantly be moved to tears when something they think about everyday and struggle with is right before their eyes being acknowledged? The answer is….probably more than you think.
Stop and take a look at the people around you. You never know and that’s the lesson….