It was a Tuesday morning when the world got smaller. I had just learned of its reduction and the truly irreversible cause of it. And although the world around me was shrinking, my thoughts were swelling. Bounding. Leaping from place to place. Always landing at the finality of what I had just been told. I sat on the step outside of our unit, grieving beneath a torrid sun. This Sunday, May 6th, it will mark ten-years since that day. However, when I blink it’s as if no time has passed at all. I am right back there, on that step, on that day, in that moment under the burning glare of a watchful sun. This is the burden of a mind scorned by pain and memory. This is what happens when a brother dies…
I didn’t have the chance to know him for long; but long enough to know that he was a man worth knowing. A man whose presence made this world a better place. There was an enviable quality about him. It might have been his quiet intensity and juxtaposing humor. A perfect combination of warrior and friend.
On May 6th of 2008, my friend, my brother and a man most certainly worth knowing, was killed while in service to his country in Afghanistan. He was killed doing the only thing that he knew how to do; sacrificing himself so that other’s may live. He died a hero. And lived as one as well…
May 6, 2008, killed in action: Corporal Michael Starker. Brother. Friend. Warrior…
I knew Michael in life. And sadly, I had the painful undertaking of seeing him in death. He was dressed the same as I was; in a uniform of varying shades of polyester green. A uniform earned, not given. His uniform was perfect, as were the medals adorned to it from the years of service to his nation. But he looked nothing like the man that I knew… that man was gone… is – gone…
I hated seeing him lain within that coffin. I was mere feet from him and yet it felt as though we were worlds, even universes apart from one another… we were, I guess…
Worse still, after helplessly gazing at my fallen brother, lifelessly still within a box, I had to turn around and shake the hand of his newly bereft wife… I felt and still feel ashamed at my own sadness towards his death – this poor woman, I could not and cannot begin to fathom what that day was like for her. I like to think I understand a little, though – her eyes told me quite a lot. As did the tremble of her hand… although, if I am being truly sincere, I must concede, I am not so sure anymore if it was her hand shaking, or mine…
A little over a month and two days after that day on that year, I would be released from the army. No longer carrying the weighted ruck, but still encumbered by the weight of his loss… and soon after, the loss of another (but that’s another story entirely) …
Before that though, on that day, the day I was told he was gone, I had been one of the first to be informed. The rest of the unit would find out after lunch. I recall snaking my way through the gun-cage in an attempt to sneak by any queries of why I looked the way I did – despondent. Broken. I made it to the front step outside of our unit before my legs gave-way. I used my hand to brace my descent and I sat alone and withdrawn. I felt so many things and yet to be honest, I kind of felt nothing… I could even see myself in the third-person, sitting on that step. A lone soldier, separated from his unit and his mates. Wanting to wail like a civilian but refusing to do so… In that moment, on that step, even now when I think back to it, I can see and hear everything. I can hear the wind sweeping through the grass at my feet. I can feel the sun put its hand on the back of my neck. It is warm but not at all comforting. It just feels like added weight. A few deep breaths and I was ready to stand and find a more secluded spot. And that’s what I did. Moving as though under contact from the enemy. Only, instead of dodging bullets, I was avoiding prying eyes.
I made it around the side of the building. It was a little more private, but certainly not a VIP suite. I felt the tease of newly forming tears. They knew how I felt and they wanted to caress my cheeks – I refused their offer. Instead, I continued breathing deeply and swallowing hard a few times. Burying it all deep inside. I was about to have lunch with my girlfriend, I could not let her see me like this; we had been fighting recently about the potentiality of my deploying – this would not help my case – and she would not care anyway (that too, is a story for another day…)
Each passing year, I find a bar, sit alone, buy a drink for me, and for him. For Michael. For Starker… The poignancy is that his drink never gets touched. It remains full. Starker’s not coming… And when I sit at the bar, despondent and broken, I remember everything. Even the sweeping wind through the grass at my feet… Everything.
I try hard each passing year to replace the image of him supine in a box, with that of him smiling his modestly subtle smile after telling a joke or lighthearted story. But as I said before, my mind is wounded. So, pain and memory bring forth the images of which I do not wish to see – so I bury them… one-drink-at-a time…
I would like to ask; when you read this, weather that is today or on the 6th of May, raise a glass; make a toast, silent or otherwise. Remember the man he was and all he has done. His life was dedicated to the service of others, and he willfully sacrificed for that cause. I miss him. More on this day, but every day.
Starker, brother, I know you’re on overwatch. And the world is better because of it. But I gotta tell ya something; the world was a pretty spectacular place when you were in it. Thank you for that. And thank you for your service.
So That Others May Live.
I will say a prayer and raise a toast to your fallen brother.
Peace and blessings, my friend
I will say a prayer and raise a glass. As with others never forgotten always remembered
Cheers, brother. Thank you for reading and remembering. Be well.
*Raises Glass in a toast* Thank you.
I was on that Roto, in the R3MMU. While I don’t believe I ever met Mike in person, learning of his death upon my return from HLTA cut to the core, that this not just one of us (CAF) that died, but one of US (medical). My AE partner Travis escorted him Home. I have shed tears for this lovely man whom I never knew. I will remember tomorrow and raise a toast to a soldier, healer and man who truly gave his all for his country.
Thank you, and thank you for your service. I know Travis also, he’s a good man
Met Mike in Battle School Wainwright 1990. We were troops together in Scarpe Platoon under Sgt McCracken. We always had great times together through thick and thin. Mike was and will always be a true Brother who is never forgotten. RIP Troop VP Brother