For many people in the United States, Veterans Day is just another federal holiday, a reason to be off work. For some people, this is a day of observance and a day of memorial.
Veterans Day was originally designated a holiday on November 11, 1919, to mark the first anniversary of the end of the Great War. Then known as Armistice Day, it was declared a federal holiday in 1938 and was celebrated each year on the 11th day of the 11th month to remember this important day in history. In 1954, the day was officially designated Veterans Day to honor all veterans of the United States Armed Forces.
This year, this day has more meaning to me than ever before. This year, I've said goodbye to two veterans. On February 9, SGT Adam Ray was killed in Afghanistan and on November 1, former SPC Michael Reinhardt was killed in his hometown of Dallas, Georgia. Though the latter death occurred almost a year after he exited the military service, I still remember him on this, and every future Veterans Day because he served in the United States Army honorably.
I was stationed at Camp Casey, South Korea, in 2006. Adam had arrived to the unit two weeks before me, and ended up being assigned to the same shop as me. Our leadership decided to assign us as roommates, and that began a close friendship. We both left Korea in January 2007 and went on to have distinctive paths through our military careers. He moved on to Fort Lewis, Washington, while I returned to Fort Gordon, Georgia. Adam first worked at the hospital as a Patient Administration Specialist (sidenote: this was actually his MOS while in Korea, I'm still not quite sure how he ended up being assigned to a computer service shop, but he made the best of it without complaining) then re-trained to be an Infantryman, something he had wanted to do since the day I met him. He was on his first combat deployment, and at the time of his death, was just over half way through his tour in Afghanistan and only a few months further from being finished with his military commitment.
Adam and I kept in close contact throughout the years following our time in Korea. We would constantly e-mail each other jokes, comment on pictures posted first on MySpace, then Facebook, and just plain "shoot the breeze" with one another. When I learned of Adam's passing, I was devastated. I hadn't had anyone I've known personally killed in combat (and to this day I still have several friends at any given time who are deployed). I was upset and pissed off all at once, wondering how someone who meant so much to so many in this world could be taken away from it. Adam had a big heart and a personality that drew people to him. His passing has affected a lot of people and has left a hole in our lives. For me to physically see him for the first time since leaving Korea in his hometown of Louisville, Kentucky, in a casket saddened me even more. Adam, you are most definitely missed by everyone who's life you impacted.
Michael was walking back to work on November 1 when he was struck by a car. Michael had turned his life around and recovered from some of his personal demons. One of his biggest blessings was when he and his wife, Cortney, had just welcomed their newborn son, Maddox, into the world on October 27. He was very proud of where he was with his life, and the timing of this tragedy couldn't of been any worse. His last two posts on Facebook contained a picture of his (then) 4-day old son and a status shortly after reading "My wife and son be asleep. Sigh".
Though Michael and I hadn't really kept in close contact with both of us leaving Fort Gordon, I was happy to see the improvements in his life and to see how proud he was to be a father spoke more than my words could express. I'd known Michael since the day he'd arrived at Fort Gordon, and for the first 10 months he was stationed there, he was my roommate. We also worked the same shift in our office for much of the first 15 months he was stationed there, so we spent a lot of time together. Michael was a bright guy, very dependable, and could make anyone laugh with his goofy character.