Memorial Day, at War : The New Yorker
His only son had been killed in action in southern Afghanistan not quite two years earlier. A roadside bomb had struck the armored vehicle he was driving. His son was twenty-four when he died, a sergeant who’d served in the Army for almost five years. The colonel was in his late forties. He’d served in the military longer than his son had been alive.
The colonel rarely spoke about his boy’s death. It was only when we found ourselves working late at night, when the office was silent except for the whine of a leaky air conditioner and the grumbling of a few tired soldiers scrambling to finish the day’s assignments, that I heard he’d lost his son to the war. I’d ask about the small picture on his desk—a faded, framed photo of five girls and a boy gathering around their mother at Christmas. He’d tell me their stories and show more recent family photos, with his daughters now joined by the missing boy’s smiling wife and young child, a little girl born four months after the roadside bomb killed her father. The memories still gave the colonel waves of nausea.
Even so, the colonel had returned to combat because a general needed him, because his country asked him to. Because it was his duty. So he was here, helping draft military strategy at a secure base in Afghanistan’s capital. Our desks were side by side in the cramped office, three hundred miles north of the unmarked dirt road where an improvised explosive device killed his son. I had arrived just a few weeks before Memorial Day and was still learning the rhythm of our work, still trying to figure out what food was edible in the dining hall. But, already, the colonel had quietly scolded me.