This Memorial Day, I will remember teammates who war caught up with back home

Jack Murphy
May 20, 2020 - 9:18 am
James Hupp

Courtesy of the author

In the Army we lost teammates while deployed overseas. It may sound callous to some, but on a certain level, I think we understood it. We were men who had volunteered, we wanted to go into the fight. When men with guns show up on the battlefield to fight, we all understand that not everyone is going to make it back home. What was unexpected, was how many teammates war seemed to catch up with after we were all back home.

Memorial Day has become another sticking point in America's culture wars over the last few years, with debates erupting over what it is exactly and what constitutes the appropriate way to "celebrate" it. Memorial Day in some form has been around since perhaps the Civil War and the exact origins of the holiday appear to be lost to history, however, it was formally established as a federal holiday after World War I. Today, it takes place on the last Monday of May and is intended as a day of remembrance for soldiers who died while at war.

Whenever this holiday rolls around, I have to be honest here, I kind of loath all the articles and posts I inevitably see on social media in which veterans scorn civilians for having barbecues and enjoying their weekend. But maybe the real reason why I cringe around Memorial Day is that I start remembering teammates I've lost. In some cases, I was present when it happened. In others, guys I knew were killed in combat after I departed the military. In still other cases, former teammates took their own lives long after leaving the battlefield.

In 2017, one of the best guys I ever worked with in the Army took his own life. Sgt. 1st Class James Hupp's death came to a shock to those who served with him. We attended his memorial in Ohio and met his great family. We tried to wrap our minds around what had happened. We still do.

James was one of the most squared away soldiers I had ever met. I vividly recall being chalk leader on a few helicopter assault force missions with James by my side, our legs hanging out of the helicopter in the breeze. We landed in a haze of swirling Iraqi dust in the middle of a city and moved out to complete our mission. I remember counting passengers back on the aircraft during extraction with him as we formed a chokepoint that they had to pass through. He was the best, both during training and on combat operations. I never for a moment had to wonder if he would do his job. My only question was would I be able to keep up with him?

On one humorous occasion, I clearly could not. The MH-60 helicopter hovered over the street below, slowing maneuvering between power lines. Wearing night vision, I didn't have any depth perception and hopped off the helicopter before we had finished landing. I probably fell ten feet and wiped out on the pavement. James jumped after me, came down on his feet, and took off running towards the objective. I scraped myself off the street and hobbled after him. James was just a tougher dude than I ever was.

This Memorial Day, I will remember James. I'll remember him at a barbecue with my family, right where James and my other teammates who died overseas or at home would have wanted me. I'm not going to feel guilty about that, and neither should any other veteran. Spend Memorial Day how you choose, but also remember that our fallen teammates would not want any of us sitting alone in a bar feeling sorry for ourselves.

If you or someone you know needs help, contact the Veteran Crisis Line 24/7 at 1-800-273-8255 (select option 1 for a VA staff member). Veterans, service members or their families also can text 838255 or go to veteranscrisisline.net.

Reach Jack Murphy: jack@connectingvets.com or @JackMurphyRGR.

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