Today was perhaps the most somber moment of my entire military career up to this point. Last Thursday night, a soldier in my battalion was killed in a car accident when he was hit by a drunk driver. Fifteen years of service to his country when you combine his enlistment in the Marines and the Army. He was a great guy; quiet, but full of advice when it was needed; he was a shoulder to lean on, dependable, dedicated, and I never met him.

Until today.

Today was SFC Turner’s memorial service. Draped from the steel girders supporting the roof of the hangar was a gigantic American flag. On a pedestal, front and center, stood a display: highly shined boots were positioned in front of a down-pointing M16 rifle, upon which sat SFC Turner’s kevlar and his dog tags. The hangar doors to the west were wide open, revealing a setting sun masked by rainclouds and the gentle pit-pat of raindrops on the pavement outside. Lining the aisle through the middle of the hangar were soldiers of Bravo Company standing at parade rest. A chaplain spoke, gave a prayer, and sat down. The battalion commander spoke a few words and then sat down. SFC Turner’s company commander spoke, followed by two of his soldiers. Psalm 139 was read.

And then the last roll was called. Many soldiers standing in the hangar bay heard their names announced. Each time, “Here, First Sergeant!” came the reply.

“Sergeant Turner!”

No reply.

“Sergeant First Class Turner!”


“Sergeant First Class Turner!”

You could hear a pin drop among the multitude gathered in the structure.

My eyes were beginning to gather tears. And if that wasn’t enough, the quiet commands issued by the Honor Guard commander weren’t enough to prepare for the seven members of the Honor Guard to fire three shots each ever so slightly in disunison. I know I wasn’t the only one caught off guard by the first volley. A bugler played Taps, the last note of which I closed my eyes and let the tears that had been welling up in my eyes stream down my face.

The conclusion of the ceremony saw the official party pay honors and depart, followed by the surviving family. One elderly man who wore a garrison cap stitched with military honors paused a few seconds longer, went to attention, and slowly rendered a salute to SFC Turner. Soon after, countless individuals, both soldier and civilian, in impromptu pairs, advanced to the front and momentarily paused in somber reflection, and taking cues from the elderly man, rendered a salute to their departed brother.

Never before have I felt such grief for someone I had never once met. After leaving the complex, I felt as if I had known him my entire life.