Reflections on Memorial Day & My Brother, a Fallen Soldier

“You can’t help what you were born and you may not have much to say about where you die, but you can and you should try to pass the days in between as a good man.” – Anton Myrer, from Once an Eagle

There are some of us lucky enough to know very early what we are supposed to be. My brother, Sergeant Jonathan Cadavero, was one of those fortunate people. He never had dilemmas about the path he was supposed to take. Jon always knew he wanted to be a soldier. A picture of him on his first birthday shows little Jonny giving a salute, albeit with his palm facing out, an infantile indication of his future profession.

There are some who are born with a warrior spirit. I thank God for these men every day. They have protected and defended our families, values, and freedom that have kept America strong and great for 233 years.

Those with warrior souls find kindred spirits in our armed services. They embark upon duty and honor mixed with adventure and daring, free from the feminization of the civilian world. The biological male urge of protecting women and children is positively realized by their protecting our country from her enemies.

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It was into this Army world that Jon ventured after graduating college with honors. His choices were many, his chosen path was one. Jon believed he was destined to be a soldier. He joined the 10th Mountain Division because of its frequent deployment. He then decided to leave officer candidate school and remain on the enlisted side to be closer to the men.

In an ironic twist of happenstance, Jon decided his specialty would be that of a combat medic. The sight of needles always made him queasy, until he began medic school. His wariness of medical instruments and procedures was replaced with a dedication to help every wounded soldier on the front lines. Medics are the number one target of our enemies. But medics are also the heroes of our heroes.

The simplest way to describe Jon’s personality is that of a true Christian in the sense of treating others as one would want to be treated. His favorite Bible verse is a little known one, Proverbs 3:27: “Whenever you possibly can, do good to those that need it.” That is exactly how Jon lived his life.

His favorite quote from a book was from Anton Myrer’s Once an Eagle, a novel about a soldier’s career from World War II through Vietnam. The protagonist, when trying to define honor for his young son, states, “You can’t help what you were born and you may not have much to say about where you die, but you can and you should try to pass the days in between as a good man.” Jon appreciated the simplicity of the description of honor and underlined the statement and wrote it on the first blank page of the book.

Jon had no choice in the circumstances of his passing, on a convoy patrolling for I.E.D.s outside of Baghdad. But he chose to live his life as a good man, an honorable soldier, and a brave medic.

Like many of our soldiers, Jon believed that it was during war time when his country most needed him. He joined a front-line unit as their medic because he stated that being on the front lines was where he was most needed. And in our last conversation Jon told me that he was considering re-enlisting because he wanted to continue the positive contributions his unit was making.

After being in Iraq for three months, Jon came home on leave. I asked him a rather silly question, if he was ever afraid. Jon admitted that he was always afraid, but said that the true character of a man is how he behaves while he is afraid.

There are no words adequate enough to describe the devastation upon hearing of your soldiers’ death. The frenzied blend of emotions is incomprehensible. Jon’s whole family was so proud of him. We were honored that he would choose to protect us and this nation. But there was unbearable grief at the thought of never seeing him again, at least on earth.

Since my brother’s passing, the meaning of Memorial Day changed for me. The holiday was always solemnly celebrated in our small hometown with a parade and remembrance ceremony. Memorial Day symbolizes the start of summer when everything is blooming and alive. It is reflected by the hope we have as individuals, a community, and a nation. But it is also a recognition that we have this hope and optimism because of the service and sacrifice of our military heroes. Especially on Memorial Day, our most solemn of American holidays, our soldiers, veterans and fallen heroes are remembered for sustaining freedom in our country and world. Where we would be without these guardians of freedom is a thought to terrible to imagine.

Perhaps in heaven, although filled with all good people, there are those with truly kindred spirits who find each other. Our fallen heroes will never get the opportunity to have their grandchildren around them as they tell their tales from their military days. But perhaps our fallen warriors come together sometimes to swap stories. Although among the angels now, these brave souls continue to inspire patriots. And, I like to think, they are watching over America and those of us still left below.

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