Arlington Cemetery

April 15, 2013 will be remembered by millions of Americans as the day of the Boston Marathon terror attack. They will look back on it with sadness and anger and confusion. In an odd twist of fate, I will look back on it as one of the happiest days of my life. For an entire day I got to spend time with one of my best friends — an old Army buddy who I’ve only been able to see twice in the last 13 years.

Long story short, James was my roommate years ago in Charlie Co., 1/18th Infantry Battalion in Schweinfurt, Germany. I got out and he stayed in. But the thing about military friendships is that they are often times iron clad. While our lives took two very separate paths years ago, the experiences we shared bonded us in a way that no matter how much time goes by, we will always be able to pick up right where we left off. It’s as if nothing has changed — because it hasn’t. We are opposite sides of the same coin; I am the civilian, and he the full time soldier. Had things gone slightly different for either one of us, the roles would probably be reversed. What is most important is that at our core is a respect and admiration for the war fighter — and each other — that can only come from having spent time in the field.

Douglas Ernst
James and I outside the White House. Although we were in the dark as to why we were pushed so far away from the gates, at this point we had not been informed of the Boston Marathon terrorist attack.

Before the Boston Marathon had even started James and I were at Arlington National Cemetery to pay our respects to the fallen. I got to hear stories about heroes like SSG Larry Rougle and SSG Troy Ezernack, both of whom selflessly sacrificed their lives during Operation Enduring Freedom. While they died honorably, it was how they lived that brought tears to my eyes. We talked about SSG Leija, who died in Iraq at the hands of a sniper. Before I exited the military, Leija helped me study up for the kind of material I’d receive years later at USC. He knew I was applying to college and wanted to help me get a leg up. That’s the sort of guy he was.

After Arlington National Cemetery we went to the White House, but because of barricades that had been set up (unbeknownst to us, as a response to the terror attack), we were forced to take pictures from a distance. From there it was on to the Korean War Memorial, the Lincoln Memorial, the Vietnam Memorial, the World War I and World War II Memorials, and the Washington Monument. And because we were on foot, there were conversations about American foreign policy, terrorism, U.S. history, the civilian population, the left, the right, the rules of engagement and the politicians who set them.

When we finally did get word about the Boston Marathon terror attack we didn’t dwell on it. Why? I’ll put it this way: After 9/11, many of those who said “Never forget!” did. James and I didn’t.

And so, we used the rest of the night to eat and drink, reminisce, enjoy the present and plan for a day when we’d meet again (all contingent upon the whims of Uncle Sam and world events, of course).

Yesterday, while the bombs went off we honored the fallen. As the commentators predicted the future we remembered the past. And in that brief moment in time I was happy in a way I haven’t been for years. My friend was alive and well and laughing right there next to me. It was just like it was all those years ago in Germany — and how I know it will be when we meet again.

Yesterday I spent time at the Korean War Memorial. It's at its most beautiful and most haunting in the rain or in the fog. "The Forgotten War"? Not by all of us.
Yesterday I spent time at the Korean War Memorial. It’s at its most beautiful and most haunting in the rain or in the fog. “The Forgotten War”? Not by all of us.
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About the Author Douglas Ernst

I'm a former Army guy who believes success comes through hard work, honesty, optimism, and perseverance. I believe seeing yourself as a victim creates a self-fulfilling prophecy. I believe in God. I'm a USC Trojan with an MA in Political Science from American University.

10 comments

  1. Excellent post. I certainly haven’t forgotten 9-11, even if I know many who have. Or the Korean War, as my grandfather (my mom’s dad) was a radio operator during that time, although to my knowledge he never saw any combat.

    D.C. is a place I’d like to visit someday. I’ve been out east twice (Pennsylvania in 2003 and New York in 2007) but never have been to D.C. before.

  2. I truly enjoyed reading this story and seeing how happy James was, to be with his old friend and visiting the graves and memorials that mean so much to him.

  3. beautifully written…I’m with you both re: Never Forget, but I’m afraid there are fewer than ever. Just an anecdote: I’ve had a “9/11 Never Forget” auto magnet since 2001 (purchased several over the years). Last summer had someone in a grocery store parking lot actually ask me what “we” should never forget. I remember vividly how sad/angry I felt.

    1. Thanks for taking the time to comment. Yes, I would be incredibly sad if someone asked me what “9/11 Never Forget” meant. Sigh… Knowing that people like you are out there gives me hope, though.

  4. This trip had so many rewards that I have to chalk it up to one of the best trips in my life. First and foremost, seeing my friend Doug again. We had (and will continue to have) a solid friendship over the years and we incited some crazy shenanigans while in Germany… and Greece. But that is another story for another blog. I’m greatly looking forward to seeing him again and finally meeting his wife. Second would have to be visiting our Nations Capital. I’ve never been to D.C. and had an excellent time with my best friend as the tour guide. Within this trip we I was also afforded the opportunity to see some old friends that I was stationed in Italy with. Last but definitely not least and the reason I was afforded the opportunity to make the trip in the first place was to pick up my wife from BWI. We recently moved back to the US from Germany and we were apart for about 2 months. Overall an outstanding trip and (at the risk of sounding like Morgan Freeman from Shawshank) I am looking forward to seeing my friend again.

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