Commander, United States Navy, Departing: Remembering Memorial Day 2009


Memorial Day will forever mean something different to me

From Skip Rohde;

Memorial Day in Baghdad is not like it is in the States.  Okay, so we got a full day off.  Our little group was sitting around dinner in the DFAC last night discussing what our options were.  Go to the beach?  Nah – the drive down to Basrah is too long.  To the mall?  No, that’s out … too many teenyboppers.  Ball games, car races, and casinos were all ruled out for various nitnoid reasons.

This evening we had a Memorial Day ceremony.  It was short and sweet.  But there’s something about a Memorial Day ceremony that honors those who have gone before us, when we’re still in a war zone.  “Amazing Grace” on the bagpipes takes on a new connotation when two Blackhawk helicopters fly overhead.  “Those who have gone before us” aren’t just overseas or far away, they’re here, right here.  They’re 200 feet overhead, or manning the gate 50 yards away, or standing right next to you.  

Wars don’t schedule holidays very well; they may start as a full day off, then end up something completely different. In 2003, Memorial Day at Camp 93 was a well-intentioned meal for the troops of a burger and chips that ended up with those same troops covering their plates from a sandstorm that quietly snaked in from the northwest. Convoys still had to arrive and depart, weapons still needed to be cleaned, somebody had to guard the gates.

2009 was not different, military planners didn’t consult the holiday schedule before making plans to inspect project sites. One such site was near Fallujah, somewhere south of where the main Marine and Seabee camp was southeast of the city proper.

CDR. Duane Wolfe, USNR (CEC) was in charge of almost 60 military and civilian personnel who worked on construction and water treatment projects in the al-Anbar province of Iraq. He was once in my unit, based out of the US Navy Seabee base at Port Hueneme, California.

I saw him in his desert cammies a few months prior to his leaving for Iraq. He had been on the verge or retiring from the Navy Reserves as a Lt. CDR but was promoted and asked to finally be sent to Iraq to finish his career of over 31 years. I shook his hand on seeing him, glad to see him after a few years. He dropped by to say “goodbye” to his many friends at SU-2 before he deployed. No one knew we’d be saying “goodbye” for real.

Memorial Day 2009, CDR. Wolfe and several others were off to inspect wastewater treatment facilities near town. That evening there would be a BBQ, sand permitting. Most of the enlisted not on watch or other scheduled duty would be off at least a half day, some all day.

A couple days later, I was listening to the news on the radio in my truck several thousand miles away in California and I heard a report that sent a chill up my spine about a local Navy Reservist being killed by an IED while in Iraq.

With dread, after I got home I checked the local news for the ID of the KIA Reservist and found it was indeed CDR. Wolfe.

Just a couple years before in 2005 we had another shipmate killed in Iraq, and Memorial Day 2009, about the same time CDR. Wolfe was killed, I was at the Veteran’s Memorial in my town laying a picture and a cigar for my fallen friend.


This year, there will be two.

I thank God that I’ve never served in a unit where so many fell that I grew numb and buried everything inside. I can’t imagine that…I don’t want to…

On Monday, I will fly my flag, the one I had all my Squadies sign before we returned home to the states.

I’ll watch the video of CDR. Wolfe’s funeral. Again.

Then I’ll remember the words sung to a song played at Ronald Reagan’s funeral.

The Mansions of the Lord

To fallen soldiers let us sing

Where no rockets fly nor bullets wing

Our broken brothers let us bring

To the Mansions of the Lord

No more bleeding, no more fight

No prayers pleading through the night

Just divine embrace, eternal light

To the Mansions of the Lord.

Where no mothers cry and no children weep

We will stand and guard though the angels sleep

Through the ages safely keep

The Mansions of the Lord.

Then I’ll thank God for the men and women who came and served before me, the ones serving today and the few who will serve yet tomorrow.

And I’ll pray that the warriors being born today will have the same love of country that we did, and somehow not have the fighting spirit crushed out of them by the undeserving and uncaring few who somehow seem to get all the press…

Half staff


Update 2011 – I still to this day am amazed by the guys in my unit. Though I’m now retired, they put their names on every list to volunteer for deployment to war zones overseas. While some may simply dismiss this as a sign of the economic times, I know better. Most are employed full-time at good paying jobs, and seek not glory, but a chance to make a difference, to fulfill their duties to their country (many to their adopted country), and mostly, to keep an eye out for their brothers and sisters who are also going. CDR Wolfe’s daughter best said it here;

“He was so selfless, obviously to do this when he wasn’t required to go, but his biggest fear was to not go and to not do something that he’d sent others to do.”
Read more-

The above post I’m re-posting a post I did just after the events on Memorial Day 2009; the pain of loss among friends gone too soon never abates. I can’t even imagine the loss of 4, or 8, or 12 in a single deployment.

God Bless them, every one.

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Erick Brockway
Work seven days a week at two jobs, a newly RETIRED EO1 (E6) in the Navy Reserves (Seabees), blog when I can from cellphone and computer. @erickbrockway #catcot #tcot

Currently living in Camarillo, CA, about 45 miles North of LA. I have a wife (20+ years) son, and two daughters.

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May 29, 2011 10:08 pm

I sat at the chow hall in 06 with some guys from an infantry unit that had lost 18 out of their platoon. That is nearly half of the men they had trained with, lived with, ate with, and fought with. It struck me how they seemed dead inside. At that point I hadn’t lost anyone I personally knew, so I didn’t understand at all.

I agree Erick, I can’t imagine what they went through and are still going through.

May 29, 2011 10:45 pm

This just brings tears to my eyes Erick. My dad is 88 and a WWII vet. Yes, he has some senility but still remembers his dog tag number and can still tell stories about what he endured during his time in the Pacific theatre.

God Bless our troops, our vets and all those who have laid down their lives to advance freedomin our beloved country.