A day in the life of a Soldier is full of reminders of those gone before.
My alarm goes off at 0500 (5 am) just like it does every single Monday through Friday. The house is dark and quiet. My wife probably won’t be up for another 90 minutes and my kids won’t be up until 0700. Hanging in the bathroom is the same set of clothes I wear every weekday morning. A black shirt with a bright yellow “Army” emblazoned across the front and black shorts with similar lettering. This is what I wear for physical training (PT) every day.
From 0500 to 0600 I drink a cup of coffee, read a bit, and get caught up on the news. Shortly after 0600, I snap a reflective belt around my waist and walk out the door for the short jog to my unit. The post is already a hive of activity as Soldiers who live off post are arriving for PT. I break into a slow jog. In the distance, as the sky begins to brighten, I can see “Warrior’s Walk” the trees are lit from the ground. Each tree represents a service member from the 3rd Infantry Division who was killed in combat in the Global War on Terror. There are 468 trees. Scattered across Fort Stewart are other memorials to the various wars where the 3rd Infantry Division saw combar. Warrior’s Walk is special to me because it’s the war my generation has fought and born the brunt of.
At 0630, the familiar notes of Reveille echo across the post along with the boom of a cannon. It signals the start of the day just like it has for generations of American warriors. Soldiers stand at attention, face the direction of the headquarters building, and salute the American flag as it is being raised.
After the flag is raised, the loudspeakers spread across post come alive again. This time with the 3rd Infantry Division song, “The Dog Faced Soldier Song.” Thousands of Soldiers greet the morning with the cry, “I wouldn’t give a bean/To be a fancy pants Marine/I’d rather be a Dog Faced Soldier like I am.”
Throughout the day, as Soldiers drive across post to and from work, the PX, or the commissary they will drive on roads with names like “Hero” or “Thunder Run.” Thunder Run in particular reminding all of the sprint across the Iraqi desert by the 3rd Infantry Division in 2003 at the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
As the work day begins to wind down at 1700 (5 pm), another bugle call echoes across post. First comes Retreat which signals the end of the work day (although many Soldiers will work long past this ceremonial bugle call). As Retreat sounds an interesting thing happens across post. It’s like a hush descends over the place. Traffic at the gates is stopped. Cars pull over to the side of the road. Children stop playing on the playgrounds. They are all anticipating the next bugle call which will play immediately upon the conclusion of Retreat.
As the last note of Retreat fades, the post holds it’s breath. “To The Colors” begins to play. This bugle call signals the lowering of the American flag (the colors) at the headquarters building. People step outside their vehicles on the roads and render honors (the hand salute for Soldiers or hand over the heart for civilians). People walking to their vehicles from the PX or the Commissary halt, face the flag, and render honors. Children on the playground pause in their activities with a hand over the heart or hand salute like daddy or mommy. For a few surreal seconds, the entire post pauses for a moment to honor the flag.
Late in the evening, a final bugle call will echo across the post. There are many times I don’t hear it because I’m already asleep. But every once in awhile I’ll be lying in bed when the familiar and haunting tune plays. It’s a tune near and dear to the heart of every Soldier. It’s the final bugle call of the day and also the final bugle call played at the conclusion of a military memorial or funeral. It’s “Taps.” For me, there’s no other tune that elicits such a strong emotional response. As a Chaplain, I’ve stood at attention and rendered a salute at the graveside of dozens of veterans and service members as the mournful tune signaled the end of a life as family, friends, and service members gathered one last time to honor the life and service of the deceased.
Day is done, gone the sun,
From the lake, from the hills, from the sky;
All is well, safely rest, God is nigh.
Fading light, dims the sight,
And a star gems the sky, gleaming bright.
From afar, drawing nigh, falls the night.
Thanks and praise, for our days,
‘Neath the sun, ‘neath the stars, neath the sky;
As we go, this we know, God is nigh.
While the light fades from sight,
And the stars gleaming rays softly send,
To thy hands we our souls, Lord, commend.
As the notes of “Taps” fade away and I drift off to sleep, I’m cognizant of the fact that I live and work in a culture where every day is Memorial Day. Each day are moments, mundane and extraordinary, to honor and remember the service of those fallen brothers and sisters. Whether it’s in the bugle calls that echo across post every day, the memorials that dot the landscape, the names of the streets, or the small metal bands on the wrists of some of my Soldiers, we are surrounded by opportunities to remember. I hope that today and in the days to come you will look around you and find an opportunity to remember.