Vietnam Traveling Memorial Wall visits Camp Mabry in AustinCommentary by Capt. Martha Nigrelle

Photo By Michelle McBride

The Vietnam Traveling Memorial Wall visits Camp Mabry in Austin, every year during the annual Texas Military Forces Open House and American Heroes Air Show. It’s one way the event pays tribute to those that went before us.

This year a Vietnam veteran came to see the wall, with a long list of names. He knelt before each name and spent a few moments with each of his brothers who never came home. He said that whenever the wall comes to Texas, there he is, visiting his friends.

Each year during the same event, a wall honoring those lost in the Global War on Terror is set up as well. And each year that I attend the event, I too, go to the wall and seek out my friends.

To some people, the name Staff Sgt. Travis Atkins is a name on a list, just one of many service members who lost their lives in a war. To others, the name symbolizes the price we pay for the freedom we enjoy. To an even smaller group of people, the name represents a life lived.

When I see the wall with my friends’ names on them I remember the lives I was so blessed to share.

 I think of how Travis convinced my husband to ask me out on our first date, how he welcomed me into their group of friends and I think of the wedding photos that will always have a hole where the best man should have stood.

Then I think of Capt. Joshua Lawrence. I think of basmati rice and jelly donuts. I think of the time he accused me of “being allergic to man,” after I informed him that I did not appreciate the smell of Brut cologne that the guys had sprayed all over the office. I think of how every time stupid seemed to happen, which when you are working 20 hour days, seven days a week, does seem to happen often, I could just look at him and roll my eyes. I think of his combat toothpicks – a reshaped paperclip - and his oath to change the brigade headquarters company’s call sign to Honey Badger, after taking command. I think of carrying his body to a Blackhawk, just weeks before he was scheduled to take that command. And I think of the empty desk that sat next to me for what seemed an eternity.

For many of us who have worn the uniform, things like the Vietnam Memorial Wall and days like Memorial Day are so much more than a tribute, or a day to barbeque with family. For us, it is a time to stop and remember the lives of our friends, our brothers and sisters in arms – the ones who never came home as well as those that came home, but are no longer with us.

It doesn’t matter when we served, or what combat theater we served in, we are all connected by those we’ve lost – perhaps the deepest battle wounds we carry.
It’s true what they say – Freedom isn’t Free. It has been paid for by the blood of so many. But each man and woman, who paid that price, first lived a full life; they did not just have a death. 

This Memorial Day, as we roll out the grills and enjoy the beginning of summer, may we all pause to remember those who went before and those who never came home to their families. Take a minute to remember their sacrifice and toast the lives they lived.