The Quintessential Soldier

A cool breeze settled on South Carolina Sunday creating the perfect morning for an outdoor graduation. It's as if mother nature knew we'd be trekking a toddler to Wofford at 6:30 am for his Uncle T's graduation and this mama needed every bit of help possible.

It was the first morning Jackson actually slept past 5:30 am in weeks. Of course. But when I woke him, he was in relatively good spirits. We packed up every toy and snack possible the car and headed out. 

Wofford bound. 
Our destination only an hour and half away.
However, in the world of a 13-month-old that's equal to at least 6 hours.

Before reaching the end of our neighborhood it dawned on me I didn't bring my wallet. But B assured me it was fine, he could drive both ways. I don't know what it was that morning but a tug at my heart told me I'd need to drive home.

The ceremony was quintessential, as Wofford alumni may say. We sat and listened as the President gave his impeccable speech full of inspiration, ambition and celebration. Jackson was a dream as he walked the beautiful campus with his Dad, allowing me to witness my brother walk across the stage and receive his undergraduate degree, summa cum laude might I add.

Post-ceremony we headed back to his apartment, set out the spread my mom had been planning and started digging in while gossiping with the graduate about his plans for summer. 

B and I stood on the front porch chatting and munching on chips as my mom talked with other friends. 

B's phone rang, it was his best friend James. 
The next thing I know Brandon's face went white with worry as he asked what's happened?!
A pause.
A gun shot?

The cup of diet coke he held dropped to the ground as his body lost all feeling. Something was terribly wrong. I know now that at that moment, a piece of him went to heaven. 

What I couldn't hear was James saying that our dear friend Jimmy had been killed in an accidental shooting. At the hands of a friend, by his own gun, because his friend believed the chamber was empty. He was rushed to the emergency room, but didn't make it out of surgery. 

For 24 hours now I haven't been able to get Jim's face out of my mind. No, it's sitting right there at the front. I feel a bit empty knowing he's not out in Colorado soaking up the beginning of summer with his beautiful girlfriend Janine. 

If I feel like this, my heart aches to imagine the feeling Brandon is experiencing. 
A best friend.

As we merged calls with the rest of the group on the way home, James, Drew and Brandon pondered that  he always told us he'd never make it to thirty. 

Damn him for being right. 

Damn him for serving the last 8 years in war and making it home in one piece. For retiring from the Air Force just the other year, ready to settle down with the only woman who could command the attention of a man who had his hand in so many pots. A man who, himself, commanded the attention of any room he entered and any person he encountered.

Let me tell you about a nutshell? He was one crazy mother fucker. 

Yeah, that's what I said. And I'd have said it to his face too. Which in response I'd fully expect a classic Jimmy side smile and a lil head nod. 

Someone said it best when they commented there was nothing bigger than Jimmy's ego other than his heart. 

So, so true. 

Behind the wild, adventurous man that every parent loathed was a heart of gold. A man who was honored when we asked him to stand next to us as we said I do. A man who dropped thousands of dollars to travel from Iraq to attend our wedding in North Carolina only to hit a delay in Paris and miss the wedding by three hours. Three hours! 

I'm honored to have known Jimmy. Blessed that Brandon called him a brother. The impact he had on the world reached international levels. He is no question the greatest American solider I've ever known. Serving multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. Then going back after his tours were completed on a purely voluntary basis. His country needed him, so he went. Not many people would do what he did. And he wouldn't have been him without the Air Force. 

The quintessential soldier. 
The quintessential American.
Living the dream and fighting for it each step of the way.

Jimmy's Facebook wall has been bombarded with prayers, photos, memories and believe it or not a bit of laughter. One thing I know for sure is Jim wouldn't want to be mourned but celebrated. However, at the moment we are all still a bit numb.

I have no doubt Jackson will grow up being told stories of his Uncle Jim. From wild parties to barely missing our wedding to dutifully serving our country, he will be remembered. In our stories, in our minds, in our hearts. 

February 12, 2009 - All the boys for Drew's birthday
There is a sacredness in tears. They are not the mark of weakness, but of power. They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues. They are messengers of overwhelming grief and unspeakable love. -Washington Irving
We love you Jimmy. You will never be forgotten.