I opened my first beer at 1015 this Memorial Day. Not because of an unmanaged drinking problem or because I had set out to start a personal best for day drinking, but because I was sitting down having a talk with Wiz.
Two days before, some scheduling changes meant that I would be in northern Virginia during the Memorial Day weekend. Having never been and feeling somewhat compelled, I mentioned to some friends that I wanted to go to Arlington to pay my respects to our fallen. I asked a group of friends if there was anyone they wanted me to visit or to leave on a buddy’s grave.
At the end of a lengthy conversation, I had a list of 16 names and a list of their final resting spaces. That list, a roll call of heroes from all the branches had me taking a photo for a buddy that wasn’t there when they were buried, a family that wanted to see the marker for themselves, team mates that asked me to leave pennies and quarters, rocks, and flowers. But, most telling, was a request that I deliver a beer to a man in his unit that wasn’t still with them.
I immediately agree and my friend gives me the background on the man he wants me to take a beer to. Captain David “Wiz” Wisniewski was a Combat Search and Rescue helicopter pilot with the Air Force and was deployed in Afghanistan when his helicopter “Pedro 66” took ground fire and crashed on 9 June, 2010. Wiz succumbed to his injuries three weeks later, after having been brought back stateside.
My friend is telling me this and explains that he was due to be on that deployment and particular helicopter save for a delay in his return to flight status after eye surgery. My friend then explains that since Wiz didn’t like to drink alone, he’d appreciate it if I were to share a beer with him myself. I of course readily agree and he insists that he buy the beer.
So, on Monday morning, I walk out Section 60 of Arlington where most of the military casualties of my generation lay in rest, and I begin visiting the names on my list. Shortly after 10, I find Wiz and sit down next to him under the overcast skies and open a beer for he and I.
Never have I had a beer that difficult to drink or a conversation that meaningful with so few words exchanged. For a solid half hour, I sit next to Wiz and he explained more to me about sacrifice and service before self than had my own unremarkable stint in uniform. While I sat, he explained the nature of service and brotherhood through the voices of comrades reuniting around a teammate’s grave, Wiz told me about family through the mothers visiting their sons, and where he really drove the point home was when he explained the meaning of sacrifice. He did this in a way that will stick with me the rest of my days. Wiz explained to me the true meaning of sacrifice when a young woman, two rows behind him asked her young daughter if she saw daddy and then lead her over to a small white granite marker.
It was this, all within earshot of Wiz, all within the span of that half hour, that put Memorial Day in perspective for me. And it was there, under the grey Arlington sky, that I gained a newfound appreciation for Memorial Day, thanks to having a beer with Wiz.