Memorial Day seems to be for cook-outs, “summer sales” and just a reason to get drunk with a group of your buddies. I have to say that I love that we can live like this and enjoy the great weather and be around friends and family. I do have to sit back and remember though that this day was set up to remember those who gave the ultimate sacrifice.
Every year since I have gotten back from Afghanistan I remember Chief Warrant Officer 2 Terry L. Varnadore II, who died on April 23, 2011. Now I didn't really know Terry before his death but I had met him a few times and talked for a second here and there. I got to know Terry thought one of his close friends after his death and thought that I found out that I had taken a photo of Terry just over a month before his death.
The Forward Operating Base (FOB) that I was at had a small landing pad and fueling station for Helicopters and since it was a French-run base there had to be an American pilot there to help coordinate American air assets. These pilots changed out regularly and you would catch them in the chow hall and talk for a few mins here and there but in a week or two they would rotate out and you never really got to know them. If I knew when American helicopters would be coming in and I had time, I would go out and shoot them taking off or landing. I noticed one day while shooting them that they change out of the pilot working with the French and one of them had these big white Oakley glasses on (not really in regulations) and I snapped a few shots of the turnover and went about shooting the Kiowas as they took off. Later I would find out that the Oakley wearing pilot was Terry. I honest couldn't tell you if he had taken any other pictures between the 18th of March and his passing but I know that I had taken a picture of someone that close to their death hit me hard. I know that my photos are enjoyed by the families of the people that I shoot but I hadn’t thought that maybe it could be the last photo of them. Somewhere out there, there is the last photo of everyone who has passed, we normally don't think of them but they are all out there. It is an honor to possibly be the one to have to take it.
I was on leave when Terry and his co-pilot were in the crash of their OH-53 Kiowa and he was killed. I know that it was one of the most helpless feeling to see on the news about this crash and know that there is nothing that you can do. I just kept on thinking “how can I get back over there” even though if I was there I couldn't really do anything to help. I didn't know who was in the crash but I knew that I want to get back there and help that Fallen Angel. Since I wasn't there, and I am just a photographer anyways, others went and to save Terry’s co-pilot and recover his body. During this grueling and dangerous event, 2 other soldiers were wounded and one was killed by enemy gunfire. Staff Sgt. James Justice was killed on the same day during the rescue efforts. I never met James but I am humbled by his sacrifice.
So while others have their BBQs and parties I will sit back in my safe home and remember those who gave everything for us.
I saw the video below as I started to write this post and wanted to include it because it is beautifully done and is perfectly timed. Thank you, Black Rifle Coffee Co. for all that you do.