Americans have been celebrating Memorial Day ever since it's inception in 1868. Regardless of Nationality, social structure, genetic makeup or creed, men have always held their War Fighters in high esteem and the sacrifices made by them, with reverential posture.
War Fighters, like all of those who have preceded them, have always sensed the solemnity of the duty they have enjoined, the responsibility to exude courage, personal honor with each other, the oaths they have struck and the determination to carry out the missions handed them.
It is into this unbroken lineage of remarkable people, that Joshua Bernard became ensconced in late 2006; a young man with unshakeable devotion to his Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, his Family, Church, Community, Nation and not the least of all, his Corps. From the earliest of age and his first utterance declaring when he grew up, he wanted to be a "saver-lifer", Josh massaged the knowledge that he had been uniquely called to serve his nation as a United States Marine; never lording it over his friends or acquaintances, as is the way of many, but quietly fostering the unique qualities of character required to wear the Eagle Globe and Anchor, in defense of all he held dear.
His announcement to his family and friends that he intended to join the Marine Corps in 2006, did not come as a surprise to any who knew him, but as is the case in all of these life altering decisions, hearing him say it, took their breath away. They all knew the risks and they all drew deep breaths of anxiety and concern for what the future held as he trained and prepared for combat on distant shores.
He took every difficult training evolution and exposure to the roughshod ways of young Marines in stride; never faltering physically, spiritually or communally as the many challenges all Marines are faced with, presented themselves. The Marines he served with, even while he lived among them, were both impressed and awe-struck that he could quietly attend to his personal relationship with God and the rigors of training without allowing one to subjugate the other; that he also managed not to sully himself on Liberty even as fellow Marines encouraged him to go places and do things his conscience knew better than to do, both annoyed and encouraged them, simultaneously.
His skill with the rifle and the grenade launcher, was legendary and the Officer in Charge of the M203 Range, presented Josh with his personal challenge coin because of the unique skill he displayed while on the range; making several direct hits on stacked tires all the way out to 300 meters - no small task with what amounts to a hand held, indirect fire weapon, at that range.
He was on his second deployment, this time to Afghanistan when 'G' Company, 2/3 received orders to occupy the FOB at Now Zad and to continue daily patrols of the town and the region; an exercise in futility and an immensely dangerous one. His Squad never left the wire without him as Point; a position he never failed to volunteer for. It is noteworthy that in all of the many dozens of Patrols he executed, he never lost a man to injury or death. This is the greatest testimony to both his skills of observation, and his dedication to the craft and the Corps he served.
His own men, gave him the Call Sign, Halo, honoring both his Christian faith, and his uncanny ability to recognize minute changes in the terrain they patrolled.
His last call home was on a Wednesday afternoon, and the eve of an escorted Company sized combat operation to clear the tiny village of Dahaneh of the Taliban that had been harassing the locals there. The Obama Administration had decided that making a show of force in Afghanistan during this period of time was necessary to give the Afghan people confidence that they could safely make their way to polling booths, to cast their votes, and that the United States Military, would have their backs.
The rewards of the mission itself would be short lived, as there had not been any commitment to keep American Forces in that town, but the short term gain, was hoped, to be a new found sense of personal dignity and courage as the average Afghan, dipped his finger in purple ink; a public sign that they had braved the dangers of the day to act as responsible citizens of Afghanistan.
It was during the third day of the operation, and late in the afternoon that Higher Echelon had called an administrative halt of all advancing units for reasons that are still unclear. That stop turned out to be a fateful one for Josh's Squad. Sensing the heightened security concern of the danger area they had just been compelled to stop in, the Patrol Leader immediately reached for the handset, to request permission to displace, in order to safeguard the exposed Marines in his charge.
That call was never completed.
Within seconds a barrage of RPG Rockets came careening in, in the midst of the Patrol, exploding as they hit.
Joshua Bernard, took a direct hit.
What occurred in the few hours that followed, is what happens whenever a beloved Marine succumbs to wounds earned in combat - and they are all beloved, and every wound is earned….
I was afforded the unique privilege of being Josh's Father, Brother in Christ, Brother Marine, and friend. It is a lot to carry and even more to have lost, so early in our relationship. The grief, the guilt, the sense of despair, all tending to creep up on you unaware, is tangible. Far too many speak of these things as if constructs in a piece of fictional writing; not actual emotions that take their physical toll, just oddly, impersonal.
Believe me, those emotions are palpable.
As a Christian, I have studied and believe, I will indeed see Josh again. I believe he lived his life in a way that makes me proud to have known him. Knowing I squandered my opportunity, early in life to live as he did, I am humbled by his resolve to not sully himself, our Family, our Savior, our Corps.
I also believe that his death, when viewed through an eternal lens, was not an ending nor a punishment but a beginning, and in fact, an honor bestowed upon him by God.
If civilians knew the truth about those family members which surround them who have served, and are serving, they would probably be horrified to learn that they, that we, always harbor a Warriors wish to die in combat. Not just to die, but to have died in a selfless act and in a very real sense, serving in uniform, having willingly suspended your Constitutional Rights and your anonymity; allowing a governing body of Representatives to determine your fate by compelling you into combat against those who would do the Nation harm.
Scripture says in John 15:13; " Greater love hath no one than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends. " And while that verse was written specifically to define the actions of Jesus Christ on behalf of humanity, the principle is never-the-less, universal.
Many of us did not live the pristine lives we had hoped we would; Josh did! And it is my fervent belief that God allowed him to die a Warrior's death in honor of his devotion to God, Family, Corps and Country because he had lived a pristine life.
As we tread carefully, and thoughtfully this Memorial Day Weekend; recalling with reverence, the price paid by so many for the privilege of living as Free Men in the United States of America, it is worthy for us to recall the sage wisdom of our predecessors.....
" War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things.
The decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks that nothing is worth war, is much worse.
The person who has nothing for which he is willing to fight, nothing which is more important than his own safety, is a miserable creature and has no chance of being free unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men, than himself."
John Stuart Mill
English Economist and Philosopher
English Economist and Philosopher