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Memorial Day

The original name of the holiday we celebrate today was Decoration Day, and it was dedicated to the dead of the Civil War. In 1971, the name was changed to Memorial Day, and it was extended to include the fallen of all wars.

Most of the men and women who die in battle die very young; that is part of the tragedy, that their lives have hardly begun, or have been cut in half, and any thanks we can offer for what they gave up is such poor compensation. I was asked to write a post for Memorial Day, and I think the best thing I can do is tell the story of a soldier whose life was taken from him, and whom I happened to know, and by remembering him, remember all the rest.

His name was Christopher J. Franco. He was born in 1979, and I remember him being a small, bright-eyed, eager kid with whom I used to set off fireworks on July Fourth. Chris’ father, John, had served as an infantryman in Vietnam. Chris idolized his father, and nothing would do but that he, too, become a soldier.

He did, and was commissioned an officer. He was competent, brave, and dedicated. Chris served in Iraq and Afghanistan, was awarded the Bronze Star and Purple Heart, commanded an infantry company, and saved soldiers’ lives although wounded himself.

The last time I ever saw him was in the spring of 2013; he had come home from Afghanistan and had been declared too disabled to continue as a soldier. It was also obvious that not all of the damage had been confined to his body; he could not stop talking about a sergeant in his company who was completely fearless in combat and who had paid for it with his life.

We never saw each other again. A few months later, he was told that, as a result of a wound he received in Afghanistan, he had developed a tumor on his spine that would kill him. The doctors bought him some time, but the surgery put him in a wheelchair for the little that remained of his life.

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