Today is one of Those Days. This year has been full of them, but today is a particularly special one. It includes two beautiful people who have become a significant part of my life. It symbolizes a change in the way I view my responsibility to our military lifestyle. It is the reason I now visit Arlington National Cemetery and sit and talk to a head stone and a memory that is not mine every time I’m in D.C.
It is the last first anniversary of one of our battalion’s soldiers’ combat deaths.
Like so many, our 2009 to 2010 deployment was far from an easy one. It ended with the kind of distinction no one wants — our battalion took more casualties over that long year than any other Army unit since Vietnam.
Today, March 4, the last of those combat casualties occurred. Sgt. Anthony Americo Paci was killed when his Stryker rolled over as it swerved to avoid hitting a civilian vehicle. Twenty one others died during that deployment from enemy strikes — Sgt. Paci’s fate arrived in the form of an accident.
My husband, on Rear Detachment at the time, was called upon to move into action the Army’s casualty notification process. The first time I met the soldier’s mother was by happenstance in Target as she made a run to gather some supplies for a grieving widow, her three small children and the rest of the family. I gave her a big hug and then, though we had only met once before, held her sobbing into my shoulder at the memorial a week or so later.
I have visited Tony Paci several times since then, sitting in front of his grave in Arlington’s section 60. I tell him how beautiful and strong his family is, how they have inspired me and how knowing them and the rest of our Gold Star families has changed me so much. I tell him how his death has come to mean so much and be used for so much good, just like the deaths of all our battalion’s soldiers. I cry as I tell him, this man I never even met, all of these things — just like I cried in the shower this morning remembering this day last year and just like I cried yesterday when I asked an on-post Bible study group to keep his family and our soldiers in their thoughts and prayers today of all days.
These anniversaries are so hard. I choose to believe that over time they will get easier — not because we forget, but because the good and happy will eventually overwhelm the sad. One of the beautiful tragedies of this military life is that we are thrown together with spouses we never would have encountered had it not been for their pain and loss, and end up learning so much through their incredible grace and strength.
To all the Gold Star families out there — thank you for your sacrifice and for what you teach me daily. You and your loved ones are not nor shall ever be forgotten.