I always think of him as a laughing boy. I remember his giggles as he played with the family dog, a white fluff-ball named Nicky, in honor of his having been a Christmas present. When his parents had other families over for dinner or a cookout, I remember the way Andrew was kind to the younger children, including them in his play, being the perfect host. I remember New Year’s eve of his senior year of high school. His parents had a few folks over to celebrate and wound up calling Andrew for instructions on how to operate their new surround sound. “Dad,” Andrew said, “I’m not going to be around here forever to help you with this. You’ve got to learn to do it on your own.”
What he meant, of course, was that he would all too soon be leaving for basic training. He’d joined the Marines. Like a lot of boys his age, he had no idea of what he wanted to do with his life. Unlike many of them, he didn’t want to waste time and money in college while he tried to find out. He both wanted and needed to refine himself and find himself against the hardest challenge imaginable. He became a Marine.
His first time back to church after basic all the girls (and a few of the older women) swooned over him in his dress blues. The first time back in church after his first tour he shared a brief and deeply thoughtful reflection on his experience and we gave him a standing ovation born both of pride and relief. He’d had a belly full of taking life. When he got back for good he was thinking of becoming an EMT or firefighter.
The last time I saw Andrew he was standing in his kitchen. He showed me a huge Marine tattoo covering one shoulder. He generally rolled his eyes at what he called, “the oo-rah stuff,” but he told me he’d gotten the tattoo so that in years to come, he could prove that he was a Marine.
He is forever 21.
As a child I used to look through my parents’ high school yearbooks and was always struck by the list of names on a page, known collectively as the boys who didn’t come home. Andrew’s story is unique and yet it is also a story shared by hundreds of thousands of families who will forever have a hole in their midst… and by a world cheated of so many gifts that young men and women could have offered.
Remember this day in whatever way you will but if you can, spare a moment to say a prayer for those who have fallen and those who remain.