By Martha Phillips – Special to the Navarro County Gazette

Memorial Day is just around the corner. It’s been a difficult holiday for this military mom for a few years now. You see, my first born entered the military after one semester of college. His dad and I felt like he’d be safe since he chose the Air Force. Boy, were we wrong!

Our first born chose to be Air Force Security Forces (military police). Within Security Forces he served in many settings. In Iraq he flew an unmanned aircraft, which was fairly safe, but still in a war zone. Soon after his return from Iraq, he was sent to San Antonio for training as a Military Working Dog handler. He and his dog were trained to find explosives, drugs and even attack criminals in high-risk situations. This was his most dangerous job in the military.

I’ll never forget the day he called me so excited. He had just found out he was to be deployed to Afghanistan. As I choked back the tears I tried to sound just as excited for him, but in reality, I was on the verge of a panic attack! Military dogs and their handlers are targeted by the Taliban with high paid bounties on their heads, upwards of $150,000.

The second phone call was “Mom, you are the executor of my will!” “Mom, if I’m not going to make it, pull the plug.” “If I am going to make it, yes, I want a feeding tube.” “Mom, I want to be cremated.” Boy, can this kid suck all the air out of the room or what? 

Every military mom keeps the phone next to her bed and I was no different. I got regular Facebook messages from my son while in Afghanistan, always about 4 a.m. A military mom knows the rhythm of phone calls or Facebook messages home, we can also tell if something is wrong by how the message reads. This particular week was the week before Memorial Day. I hadn’t heard from my first born and in my gut, I knew something was wrong. I called his Kennel Master at his home base, who in turn checked up on my son.

His kennel master sent me a Facebook message that my son was okay, but had been ”outside the wire” for a couple of weeks. My delight only lasted a few seconds. As I exited Facebook messenger on my phone, I saw a post my son had made. It was a post about one of the other dog handlers who had been killed in action. Later on, I found out the dog handler that died was the one that took my son’s place outside the wire just a few days before. His name was Shaun, and he died the Wednesday before Memorial Day. He had a wife and baby at home. It was his first time outside the wire. He was shot in the back while helping put an injured solider on the helicopter.

I’m not sure anyone understands Memorial Day until you know the name of the one that died. Please don’t post “Happy Memorial Day” on social media, please don’t post about your three-day weekend at the lake or what you bought at the Macy’s Memorial Day sale. It’s time to show honor and respect to Shaun and all the others that have died so that you are free to go to the lake or shop.

This year, I have helped my church plan our Memorial Day ceremony at Calvary Cemetery at 10 a.m. Memorial Day. Please feel free to join me.

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