My incredible sponsor Coeur Sports (check out coeursports.com) wrote me and asked to write a blog on Memorial Day. Of course the motto of Coeur is heart and courage. At first I wasn’t sure which way to run with it. Memorial Day conjures up so many meanings to me it can be difficult to nail down just one. Memorial Day is for remembering the people who died while serving in our Armed Forces, which is the ultimate use of heart and courage. When I was younger, it meant eating hamburgers and hotdogs and to celebrate the kick off of summer. Obviously as a veteran, and one that is getting older at that, it holds a much greater meaning. I started thinking about where I started my career, as a fresh out of high school showing up for R-Day at West Point. I thought it would be fitting to memorialize my classmates no longer with us.
It’s hard to describe the feeling when you actually start to personally know the people you are honoring. The first of my classmates to die was Dustin. We were in the same squad together at Camp Buckner. When you think of a West Point cadet, you think of him. He was good at everything. He was kind and funny with a good sense of humor. He was classically handsome but probably oblivious to it. He had a way about him that just put you at ease. He left us far too soon in a helicopter crash in 2002 in Korea.
Then I thought of Leif. Leif and I were in the same company the first two years at West Point. He was prior service so a little older than me. When you are 18, a 20 year old seems so mature and worldly. He was always able to keep a straight face while I was always told to “smirk off” as I tend to smile when I get nervous. We both ended up in German during our sophomore year. His father was career Army and he spent several years in Germany growing up. He helped me study for our German tests and was patient with my thick Texan accent at the time. Leif was our first classmate to die in combat at the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Becky was in my Beast Company. She was smart and quirky. During Cadet Basic Training she always looked stressed out, but she never cracked and did quite well at West Point. Ironically her twin sister started West Point a few years after Becky and ended up in my company. Becky went on to be a helicopter pilot. Becky was an especially hard one to lose. Becky lost the fight after returning home. She is one of the 22 veterans we lose a day to suicide. We owe it these veterans and families to put a stop to this.
We had a crazy Croatian classmate named Jasen. Everyone knew Jasen because he had served in combat in the Croatian Army before even coming to West Point. He was also in my Beast Company and in my sister squad. The first time I met him he was smoking out of his window in his room, which of course was not allowed. He had the foulest mouth I’d ever heard, but somehow with his accent it seemed to fit. He played soccer and was naturally a great runner and we often ran the 2 mile run test together. Here’s a 22 year old guy, an infantry combat vet, and he’s running with me pushing me. Upper-class respected him, so even though he never seemed to know any knowledge, no one ever messed with him. I just was in awe of what a bad ass he was. He died in a bizarre accident in Canada not related to military service.
TK was a hockey player and we lived on the same floor in Eisenhower Barracks. Being that we were both in varsity sports, we often got back late and left scrambling to get our academic assignments done. We often ended up studying together due to these circumstances. Plus, TK always had good snacks in his room! It’s funny because as varsity athletes, you can be labeled as a “get over” or “ghost” because we often miss class duties being at practice. TK is a prime example of how athletes often become some of the best leaders. He was so charismatic and when he died in combat in Afghanistan, it shook our class. He was loved by so many. He left behind a wife and twins, also boy and girl.
I contacted a classmate because I wanted to make sure I didn’t forget anyone. I knew Dustin, Leif, Becky, Jasen, and TK personally. When I looked at our class eulogy link, I was surprised we have lost 9 total. Greg, Joe, Scott, and Ben…I didn’t know you but I know you will be deeply missed by so many of our classmates.
And when our work is done,
Our course on Earth is run,
May it be said, “Well done:
Be thou at peace.”
Each day I get to train, I get to race, I get to be an athlete, I get to be a mom, I think of these guys and gals and I’m reminded what a gift that is. Memorial Day is a good day to put things in perspective. They remind me to never give up, to keep fighting. And when you’re out racing and training and you’re in pain, pain is just a reminder that you’re alive. It was an honor to serve with each of you.
George G. Plitt, Jr. “Greg”
MAJ Thomas E. Kennedy USA (KIA)
CPT Rebecca Ann Jarabek USA
CPT Leif E. Nott USA (KIA)
Thank you coeursports.com for giving me a voice to thank these veterans.