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Sep. 14, 2015  War on Terror   Transformation   News Products   Press Resources   Images   Websites   Contact Us 
Veterans' Day in Fallujah
By U.S. Army Capt. Steve Alvarez / Multinational Security Transition Command - Iraq, Public Affairs

FALLUJAH, Iraq, Nov. 11, 2004 – I didn’t know David “Eddy” Black, but I knew of him. A humble husband who played sports growing up, graduated college—the first in his family, and then went on to earn a law degree, all while juggling five kids and careers as an airline pilot and Air Force reservist. By today’s standards he would be called an overachiever—but not too long ago, people of his caliber were just considered good, hardworking men.

I think of Dave Black often, but especially on the days that are reserved for remembering our fallen soldiers—Memorial Day and Veterans’ Day. It’s hard not to think of him, even though I never met him.

Capt. Black died in 1983 as he flew a training mission in his A-10. He was practicing ground attacks on a range when his aircraft went down.

He died, like many did during the Cold War, anonymous to most, but he left a certain and tangible void to those who knew him. And today, to those who knew of him.

When Dave died in 1983, he joined millions of Americans who have died in service to this country. Many have died in battle—fighting to take ownership of the 50 meters in front of them possessed by a person they have never met—far away on some foreign land. Some have died in traffic accidents driving to work, and many, like Dave, died in training mishaps, preparing for events they would never live to see.

Veterans aren’t special or extraordinary people. Military veterans all served for different reasons: They were drafted, motivated by patriotism, couldn’t get a job on the outside, needed direction, wanted job skills, you name it. The reasons for their service are as diverse as the people who have raised their hands and taken the oath to defend the Constitution of the United States.

But the underlying fact remains that they all served willingly, even those who were drafted. Laws still give individuals choices. Honorable people do what is right by the laws that govern their society and the laws that govern their hearts. But regardless of the many reasons that put them into a military uniform, they came, and they still do.

Vets serve when nobody else will, volunteer when nobody else would, and commit themselves when others couldn’t. To me, that is what makes veterans unique—their spirit, their willingness.

Ordinarily my family and I take a moment out of our day, as we do on Memorial Day, and we visit a soldier at a cemetery on Veterans’ Day. Without much fuss, we visit with them and leave a stone on their gravestones, letting subsequent visitors know that somebody visited this vet.

I left a stone a few years ago when I visited Dave Black in Indianapolis where he is buried. I said some words and left. Someday I’ll go and see the A-10 that is on display at Wright Patterson Air Force Base that bears his name.

Today is Veterans’ Day 2004. I’m in Fallujah with tomorrow’s veterans. The “outgoing” has started again this morning and the artillery jars my mind and stirs a fond memory of my youngest sister-in-law Robin.

A few years ago when I was assigned to the Pentagon, my mother-in-law, Kate, and Robin came to visit my wife and I in Washington, D.C. We were in Arlington National Cemetery to watch the President place a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns.

As the President entered the cemetery grounds, the Howitzers fired, boldly, loudly announcing the commander-in-chief’s arrival. We were a few yards from the cannons, about as far away as I am now, and it scared Robin out of her shoes. It is the only time I have ever laughed while on that hallowed ground.

But here in Iraq, the sound of the Howitzers denote a presence, but not of a distinguished visitor, but rather it denotes the presence of trouble somewhere in the restive city of Fallujah where right now more than 10,000 U.S. and British soldiers, sailors, sirmen and Marines are supporting their Iraqi brethren in a fight to rid the city of anti-Iraq forces.

This morning as the barrage started, I donned my full “battle rattle,” 40 pounds of protective gear that has replaced the weight that I have lost since I’ve been here. I thought about my sister-in-law, how she jumped when the guns fired, and I smiled.

I arrived at the operations center as the guns continued to fire rounds into the city. I checked my e-mail to find a note from Kate. She wrote that she knew where I was and that she was praying for me.

She mentioned in her e-mail that with as many prayers as she had said for me, that she often envisioned a flock of angels floating around me. If I stopped suddenly, she wrote, they would all run into each other. The thought brought another smile to my face.

But on this Veterans’ Day, Kate said that if I wanted to let someone else borrow a few of those angels that she’d be okay with it. So being the good officer that I like to think I am, I’ve reassigned a few of them “downrange” as we say in the military. There are others who need protection a lot more than I.

I then read an e-mail from my wife, Rosie, who is back in the states patiently waiting for me to come home on R&R leave, wondering when I’ll get out of Fallujah and start my long journey home, for my short stay back in reality.

We won’t get to pay our respects to a veteran together this year, but I’m hoping that this essay will suffice somehow, if words can provide comfort, or convey appreciation which I think they cannot, but right now, from here, it is all I can offer.

And she’ll see that 6,000 miles away her husband wanted to pay tribute to her father, my father-in-law, Dave Black, a U.S. military veteran who didn’t consider himself extraordinary or special, but has been missed, and who lives on through his daughter’s independent spirit, my wife, and through his grandson’s energy, my son, Duncan.

I’m certain there are angels floating around me and I’m sure one of them is my father-in-law, Capt. Dave Black, and from what I hear of him, he’s probably got them flying in formation.

Last Updated:
12/01/2005, Eastern Daylight Time
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