A Lump In Your Throat

That’s how Caveman described the following article when he forwarded it to me. I have nothing that I can add. It’s from They Who Shall Not Be Linked™ so no link.

RIVERSIDE, Calif. – Abts, Richard. Adamski, Walter. Ahlman, Enoch. The names are whisked away by the hot, gusting wind as soon as they are spoken, forgotten in the stream of the next name and the next name and the next name. Fuller, Addison. Fuller, Mary. Furlong, John. The story of America could be told through these names, tales of bravery and hesitation, of dreams achieved or deferred and of battles won and lost.

Taken alone, they are just words, identities stripped of place and time, stripped of rank and deeds and meaning.

But they are not taken alone. They are taken together — 148,000 names, representing the entire veteran population of Riverside National Cemetery, a roll call of the dead read aloud over 10 days by more than 300 volunteers.

They read in pairs, rotating through 15-minute shifts in the beating sun, in the chilly desert night and in the pre-dawn hours thick with mosquitoes.

Some time on Memorial Day, they will read the last name on the 2,465th page.

Some read for their country.

Others read for a father lost in battle or a beloved son cut down in his prime.

And one man reads for no one in particular — except, maybe, for himself.

_____

Richard Blackaby was just 18 and fresh out of high school in 1966 when he was drafted for Vietnam. His father had served as a Seabee in the U.S. Navy during World War II and Blackaby was desperate to follow in his path.

But the Army said no: Blackaby had epilepsy and asthma and was unfit for service.

Twelve years later, Blackaby — now married with three children — reapplied to the Army and was accepted to the 4th Infantry Division as a forward observer.

But Vietnam was over and the eager recruit spent the next six years waiting for a war that never came. When he was honorably discharged in 1984, he was a sergeant but had never experienced combat, had never called in a real air strike or fired at a real target.

Nearly 25 years later, Blackaby’s missed opportunity weighs on him as he patrols his self-selected battleground: Riverside, the nation’s busiest national cemetery. While others gave their lives, Blackaby gives his time — and a lot of it, nearly 30 hours a week.

Over the years, Blackaby has made his specialty here not among the remembered and the honored, but among the lost, the abandoned and the forgotten. The work seems to fit his story of missed chances and dashed dreams, his yearning to belong to something greater than himself.

Every day, the 60-year-old grandfather with the crinkly, blue-gray eyes slips on the black leather vest that’s his personal uniform and stands at attention as the cemetery honors the cremated remains of dozens of abandoned or forgotten veterans.

Every day, he salutes as the National Guard reads the names off the simple wooden boxes filled with ashes.

Every day, he accepts the folded flag for soldiers he will never know — and then gives it back for the next day’s dead.

Dog tags engraved with the names of 145 forgotten veterans dangle from a thick key chain that never leaves his side, a different color for each branch of service. He knows the story behind almost every name.

“If I didn’t do it, who would do it?” he says. “I mean, they have friends, they HAVE to have friends. They don’t go through a whole lifetime and not have somebody that cares about them.”

And, true to form, Blackaby reads names — hundreds of them — for the roll call project.

He reads for hours on overnight shifts in the cemetery’s eerie gloom, the podium illuminated only by a floodlight. He reads during the weekend afternoons and late into a Saturday night to cover gaps in the schedule.

“Every one that we read off, I feel like I am probably doing their family a favor because they can’t be here,” he said.

“I’m reading off a whole litany of history. It kind of makes you wonder what’s behind each name, what their life was like, what they did.”

___

Lamborn, Richard. Lamphear, Everett. Landaker, Jared.

A gust of wind springs up and snatches the last name away.

No one notices it and later, even the volunteer readers won’t recall the name of the young Marine or which one of them read it.

All they know is he was a 1st lieutenant, fifth from the bottom on page seven of 2,465.

___

Joe Landaker was the first person to touch his son, Jared, as he slipped into the world on his parents’ bed on May 3, 1981, after 36 hours of labor.

From the beginning, Jared was special — but not in the way most parents would want. His skull was compressed during birth and doctors warned that he might be mentally challenged.

During childhood, he kept falling off the growth chart. He barely topped out at 5-foot-8.

But Jared, who went by the nickname J-Rod, surprised everyone.

He took calculus in high school, knuckled down in college and got a degree in physics. He signed up for the Marines his sophomore year and graduated from officer training school in Quantico, Va., among the top five in his platoon of 80 men.

By fall of 2003, he was in flight school and on Aug. 18, 2006, Jared shipped out for Iraq as a Marine helicopter pilot flying a CH-46 Sea Knight with the famed HMM-364 Purple Foxes.

“He overcame so many adversities in his life, time after time,” said his father, Joe.

On Feb. 7, 2007, a week before Jared was expected home in Big Bear City, his father was watching CNN at 5:30 a.m., getting ready to go to work, when he saw that a CH-46 chopper had been shot down near while on a medical mission.

Two months before, when two Marines died in a CH-46 crash, Jared had e-mailed his parents within two hours to let him know he was OK.

But this time, hours passed with no word.

“They said there were seven people on board, so I waited. I didn’t go to work, waited and waited all day long, waited again for his e-mail or a phone call that he was all right,” said Landaker, choking back tears. “It never did come.”

At 4:15 p.m., a Marine captain, a chaplain and a 1st sergeant came to tell Landaker his son had died on his last mission before coming home.

Since that day, Landaker has been consumed with keeping his son’s memory alive. He shares his story with anyone who will listen. He has memorized every detail of his son’s life and death. He now knows that the boy who called him “Pops” took 58 seconds to lower his stricken chopper from 1,500 feet to 200 feet; seven seconds faster, and he might be alive today.

“The last thing I want to do is forget about Jared. He comes to my mind all the time, songs, things that you see,” said Landaker. “When he was a baby, I’d give him a shower and I’d hold him up and those kind of memories come to mind all the time.”

“He’s so special to me,” he said. “Those Iraqis have no idea who they killed.”

The rows of grave markers are cool and smooth in the heat, their numbers obscured by tufts of grass that have crept around the edges of the stone.

Landaker walks, head bowed, along the rows of plots in Section 49B.

“3438. It should be right around here,” he says, bending low.

Then Landaker falls to his knees, weeping.

The stories, the details don’t matter now: There is no way to unbury the dead, to bring the CH-46 from 200 feet back to 1,500 feet, to reset the clock with seven extra seconds.

“Well, all right son,” he says. “Take care, son.”

And so he volunteers to help call the roll at Riverside. He will not have an opportunity to read his own son’s name, but at least he can ensure that the sons of others are not forgotten.

___

The heat beats down on the volunteers. A dozen spectators press themselves into any sliver of shade — a tree, the thin shadow of the flagpole, an awning.

In the shade near the sign-in booth, Richard Blackaby and Joe Landaker stand ready to take the podium, two strangers awkwardly chatting before their shared 15 minutes of service.

Landaker wears a white T-shirt printed with Jared’s photo; Blackaby, for once, has shed his black leather vest for a dark suit adorned with military ribbons and an American flag pin.

They discover a bittersweet bond: Blackaby escorted Jared’s coffin to his military funeral at the cemetery two years before. The two men embrace, then step to the podium.

The names pass between them like fragile treasures.

White, Clark. White, Mary. Whito, Russell.

Their 15 minutes pass, and they step down. Landaker, eyes red with tears, has another piece of his puzzle, another connection — another story to cling to.

But Blackaby is not finished. He steps forward again, ready to read for those who will never have the love of a father like Jared’s. He will be there until 2:30 a.m. on this muggy Sunday and back again the next day and the next day and the next.

He is patrolling the boundaries of the past, filling gaps in this American story and in his own life — one name at a time.

16 comments

  1. 1

    God

    just when I get my composure back from watching Taking Chance you post this. I hold Memorial Day in special reverence, always remembering what it is for…..but for some reason, this one seems to be more poignant and emotional than others….not sure why that is. One of the things I wrestle with is how I can repay the debt to those who served and sacrificed, it’s something that bothers me a lot. This post is a reminder that there are many ways that us civilians can serve and honor and never let the sacrifice of our military heroes fade, in spite of so many of our “fellow” Americans ingratitude.

    Go put flags on their graves at a local cemetary, volunteer to help or teach wounded vets (I’ve done that, and they are the best students you will ever have), shake their hands and buy them coffee when you see them, buy them an upgrade if they are on the same plane as you, anything……just remember and be thankful and know that this country….regardless of it’s leadership…..is in very capable and strong hands.

    God bless them all and God bless the volunteers like Mr. Blackaby and Mr. Landaker

  2. 2
    mindy1 says:

    😥 RIP to all who gave their all for us, and thanks-Jaybear you’re right about Taking Chance,left me in tears

  3. 3
    LC HJ Caveman82952 says:

    To me Memorial Day remains the most important of holidays……..the one day I will fight not to work, I’ll give you the others but this one I want. Here in Dog Patch flags set a hundred feet apart on nine foot poles every hundred feet on both sides of our two main streets. Old Glory flies from the front of my home as I type…….tomorrow I will see my friends, those here in town, the police, mayor and such…all my friends and all vets.
    My wife put it so well a few years back, when asked why she has the views she does…..
    I am the daughter of a vet,
    I am the daughter in law of a vet.
    I am the wife of a vet.
    I am the sister of a vet.
    I am the sister in law of a vet.
    I am the niece of a vet.
    This is why…….
    And last year at the service, I wrote this……

    To My Friends;
    It still gets to me……
    He said it so simply…and so well.
    My favorite service, a simple, small town affair at our town cemetery. We have attended for the last eight years, just got back.
    Parking Spunky behind a Lincoln Town car with flags on the trunk…..just walking to the entrance. Fifty foot trimmed junipers, suddenly flags, hundreds of flags, big ones, little ones, American Legion, California Republic, POW-MIA, and Old Glory……
    Silently walking, noting hundreds of small flags marking the final resting place of so many…now gone Home to serve the Ultimate Supreme Commander in Chief.
    I thought about all you people today……as I was there.
    I saw one man with a ball cap, about my age, a small flag in his hand, pausing, looking for a grave. I thought about Jaybear and his avatar.
    I remembered Joe D and his dad, laid to rest on the most sacred of military holidays. How fitting, it seemed to me.
    In front of us some old Legionaires stood, fumbling over trumpets, bugles and such.
    My wife stifling a guffaw….I soon joining her. Yes, I suppose the business end of a toilet plunger would provide a fine means of playing your trumpet…..you gotta’ do what you gotta’ do…..
    I said, “Trust me, soldiers are a creative bunch, we have to be. My squad went to a lot of trouble to heist that case of scotch. They knew who it was but couldn’t pin it on us…the evidence quickly consumed, more worried about havin’ to eat the bottles, ya’ know? ”
    We sat, chairs on the lawn, a canopy over us, one before us for the honor guard. Old men, wise eyes, some young, strong young men, eyes sharp yet kind, appreciative of the couple of hundred of us showing up. In a town of five thousand souls…
    The honor guard suddenly approaching from the left. Trumpet and plunger at the ready….I removed my cap, placing it over my heart.
    Two hundred people…..
    “I pledge allegiance, to the flag , of the United States of America, and to the republic, for which it stands, one nation, under God…….”
    Invited to join in the national anthem.
    No one had to be asked to stand……not here, not now….
    Nobody threw rotten vegetables at me either. Not that I would have blamed them.
    We listened to hizzoner, the mayor. The Chief of Police, a personal friend. He was a young, African-American patrolman when we first moved here……a Marine and now the Chief of Police. We fought fiercely to keep him when some of the former city council decided they didn’t like him. The Chief’s still here, the council isn’t. The Other half remembered him taking the time to simply talk with us. He won her friendship and my respect.
    His speech ended with the words, Semper Fi……
    We looked at the hundreds of graves with their little flags….dating back damn near two centuries. A veteran under every one of them.
    We were asked to sing “America the beautiful”, my favorite.
    As the words flowed…….I remembered backpacking in the high Sierra….for spacious skies……..driving through vast oceans of wheat in Kansas…for amber waves of grain…..an airliner, approaching the Rockies from the east, the sun setting behind them….massive turbines humming, nine hundred feet per second, for purple mountain majesties……the fruited plans beneath. That big Boeing, crafted with American minds and hands, taking us safely to San Francisco….
    As the song faded I pondered……
    Quiet reverence, flags flapping, communicating as they do……
    From the rear taps began…I froze, as did time….yanking my cap off my head. For all of us, listening, remembering, and praying.
    Suddenly in front of us a little girl maybe three, oblivious to the meaning…..walking, stumbling across the grass between us and the honor guard….falling into her grandmothers arms.
    “This is why………….this is why. And a child shall lead them……”
    Taps faded into time….
    We were invited to have a hot dog, which we declined….I shook the Chiefs hand, thanked him.
    One man, with an army cap; great big, burly guy, could have broken me in half. I saw him wiping his eyes.
    I looked at him, he at me…he said. “It still gets to me, it still gets to me.”
    Extending my hand….”Me too, bro’…me too. That’s why we come.”
    And the flags flapped as we passed, hundreds of them….back to Spunky where I sat, suddenly jamming a CD in the player. I know how to end this. One of my favorite songs, “My Jesus” by Todd Agnew.
    And Spunky was let idle us the eight blocks home.
    I saw my flag in the breeze…..she is old.
    But some memories defy time, space and place.
    This day was one of them…..

  4. 4
    LC TerribleTroy, Imperial Centurion says:

    I AM SHOCKED! at the origin of the article. What we’re the (those that shall not be linked) editors on holiday? How did this article that reeks of “Nationalism” & “Militancy” ever make it to see the light of day?

    And as for Mr. Blackaby……. well that right there boys and girls is a MAN. ….. all I can say is I would be willing to shine his shoes….

  5. 5

    *Sigh* Crunchie I’m fast learning to not read any of your posts without a full box of tissues handy.

    Bless em All. For without any of them, there would be no freedom.

    All gave some. Some gave all. :em04:

  6. 6
    LC Rurik says:

    Tomorrow I am a nobody, a survivor, one who only gave some a little. It is not my day. so I will stand post for Spc. Patrick Herried. It is his day; he gave all.

  7. 7
    LC Old Dog says:

    I had to buy flowers and flags for all of the graves of my family that were Vets. We do it for all of them all the way back to the Revolution. It cost myself and my cousin $300.00 each.

    Today is not for the living Veterans, our day is in November. Today is for the one’s who did not come back or have passed on! Those are the ones who payed for our freedoms.

    Remember Them!

  8. 8
    LC Aggie Sith, a goddess, only different.... says:

    I met a seasoned citizen yesterday…93 years experienced, a vet of WWII, Korea, and Vietnam.

    We began talking, and to my wonder, discovered the man was a Pearl Harbor survivor. He began to tell me the tale of waking up to the blood-drenched dawn, and before his tale was done, people were straining to hear his story.

    Never will I forget, and I will do all I can to keep his story alive. :em04:

  9. 9
    Lc ORWN says:

    LC Rurik sez:

    Tomorrow I am a nobody, a survivor, one who only gave some a little. It is not my day. so I will stand post for Spc. Patrick Herried. It is his day; he gave all.

    Today I am a nobody, or any day for that matter, I never served, But If you will permit me I will stand post For alot better man than me who did give all.

    PFC CHRISTIAN D.GURTNER Died April 2nd 2003 in Iraq, he was 19

  10. 10
    LC HJ Caveman82952 says:

    His name was Joshua….
    I composed this five years ago…….
    Friday afternoon, almost home…
    Today I did something I never thought I’d have the chance to do..
    The opportunity presented itself and I took advantage of it.
    It has been very emotional and left me drained inside.
    The day was ending normally enough, Mary and I driving through Los Banos.
    My eyes, suddenly yanked from the road by a sense of surprise and disbelief.
    To my right, set up in Pacheco Park….
    The Wall…..surrounded by Old Glory. With lots of company.
    The traveling Wall, a traveling display of the Viet Nam memorial, about one half full size or more. Still several hundred feet long.
    I’d heard of it, but it was always big cities, never smaller cities and towns.
    But it was in Los Banos.
    And still is.
    Men stand quietly in front of it.
    As I did today….
    I didn’t mind spending time looking for a place to park.
    The mute testimony written on the Wall.
    To step forward, to remember….
    Quietly I ponder…..
    Around fifty thousand men, average age twenty, a million years of living, of little boys lost to their mothers and fathers.
    A million years of potential talent laid to rest far too soon.
    My wife still has a POW bracelet she wore for several years.
    Lieutenant Commander William T. Arnold.
    She found him on the Wall.
    This still gets to me…it did then, it does now.
    My friend…..I didn’t know him long.
    I knew him by his middle name, a beautiful name.
    I knew him as Joshua.
    From ‘Bama.
    We hit it off right from the start.
    We spoke of God a lot.
    He said his momma beat the Bible into him, laughing at the memory.
    But we both revered the Lord.
    And still do.
    But he is closer than I.
    Times were we had a few beers together, talking and dreaming as soldiers will. Wondering about the girl back home. Dreaming of the truck we would buy when we got out. Something new and proud to drive those country roads, sucking suds and sharing times.
    But it was not to be.
    He is here…….
    To lean my head against the Wall…..to think.
    And remember….to hurt, to regret, and to wonder.
    And from my mind….
    Joshua?
    Do you remember me? The times we had? You ended up dead. We never got to get out and drive that truck you wanted to get. You know, Joshua, I gotta’ real nice truck now with a tool box on it. I wish so much I could take you for a ride in it.
    You know, Joshua? I was the hell raiser, drunk half the time, getting arrested, in a few bar fights, even went UA once. I was pissed and once again, drunk. Drew a special court for that stunt. They broke me of that habit, along with a few others.
    Had four-oh quarter marks after that, got an honorable discharge too.
    I still remember the day….
    You were a young, strong, proud Marine. A member of America’s finest.
    You had been in ‘Nam one fucking day! One fucking day! Maybe two….
    You had gone to get some coffee for your buddies.
    The incoming caught you flat footed in the open. You didn’t stand a chance.
    Your boot with your foot still in it was thrown in the trash. The rest of you died on the way back……
    Why did you die, Joshua?
    Why am I still around?
    Survivors guilt?
    You know, you guys coming home were treated like shit.
    Those left wing bastards say I love war.
    I still hate them for what they did to you guys.
    I still wonder why I’m on this side of the Wall and you on the other?
    Or because you were a by the book guy and I was one hell raising son of a bitch.
    And we were friends. You said I made you laugh. And I could drink a lot of beer.
    But I’m not laughing now Joshua….
    I feel you.
    My Alabama Angel.
    It rips me a new asshole.
    Joshua, I think of you on the fucking jet going home, the cabin somber and silent. All those caskets, side by side, flags on all of them. Row upon row. My father may have even been the one flying the plane.
    You know, Joshua, twenty years later I fought the battle of my life.
    For my life.
    It was no longer the monkey on my back.
    But rather a gorilla.
    And with the good Lords help and tutelage I survived. I confront pain now, Joshua…any kind of pain. It pisses me off and I go after it.
    One in ten make it back, Joshua.
    But like with you….and the other nine….why am I still here?
    I’m only fifty-one, Joshua, yet I have outlived most of my friends.
    I am sad, Joshua, part of me wants to cry, the other part just hurts.
    I have to go, Joshua.
    I just wanted to say good bye.
    And thanks…..
    Turning, quietly striding away from the Wall, I turned one final time…
    And snapped a salute.
    On the drive home….
    My wife told me some things…nice things.
    “Kent, you have a mental discipline few possess. You hurt and say nothing, you never speak of these things, but I feel it too. I hurt too.”
    “You walk the talk, as many do not. You really try. I know you love God. And you try hard, work hard.”
    I felt very grateful to have had this woman in my life.
    Especially today.
    Good bye, Joshua….
    Kent

  11. 11
    Cricket says:

    No. We do not forget and with that remembrance, we carry on. It is their legacy to us, and our gift to them, to live worthy of the sacrifice. I believe in life after death. The grave is final to us in this life, but we will see and hold them yet again, and tell them thank you. So, I don’t wait for that day, I live for it.

    Today, I remember my cousin, who was KIA in South Korea, 09 December, 1950. He died eight years before I was born. Our family was close-knit, having reunions every other year, but Jack was not mentioned. I didn’t know until I read some family history. My mother told me that the reason Jack wasn’t mentioned was because his death devastated my aunt and uncle. He was 19 years old…young enough to be my son now. Thank you, Jack. I will get to meet you and tell you in person someday.

  12. 12

    Sean Hannity frequently says to callers and to guests, “You’re a great American.”

    Well, Blackaby is truly a great American. He’s pouring out himself for love of country. God bless him!

  13. 13
  14. 14
    LC Proud Infidel says:

    I just want to remember a few of my compadres I’ve lost….
    SFC Daniel Suplee, 53rd BCT, Afghanistan, died of injuries while on a mission
    SSG Joseph Fuerst, 53rd BCT, KIA, Afghanistan
    SFC Jimmy Neal Miller, 53rd BCT, OIF 1, passed away at home

    Rest In peace, Brothers………………

  15. 15
    anonymous hourly worker says:

    My great uncle, a World War II vet, is buried at Riverside National Cemetery. It was the first military burial I ever attended.

    Went with a vet to a cemetery on Memorial Day, to honor the dead veterans with a lot of praying, crying, and Jack Daniels.

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