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.
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.