This came in to me a little late, but it’s well worth your time. PD has shared writings from this talented Air Force vet before, but this one truly stands out. (In the interest of full-disclosure, this gifted wordsmith is a cousin of mine.)

If you enjoy this, please share on Facebook, Twitter, etc. and help it find the audience it deserves. Also, comments back to the author are always encouraged.

I exited my garage this morning to hang Old Glory in its proper place, an act which has become symbolic of my low-key approach to Memorial Day. As a veteran myself, but still obviously among the living, I am sometimes uncomfortable being thanked for my service, regarded as some sort of greater-than-normal servant, some sort of hero when in reality I feel like I have just done what I was meant to do. I love the associations of genuinely good people who serve in the military, the high level of integrity which is paramount to a functioning fighting force, and the brotherhood that exists between those who serve.

This morning, however, I found myself thinking of specific individuals I have know who are nothing less than heroes, and whose service ought to be known by every American student for its selfless nature, and what it means to the average American.

I began by thinking of Jaguar 28, known to his mother and close friends simply as Mark. Youngest son of a family of five, college graduate with literally a millions options before him who chose to enlist in the Air Force to become a Combat Controller. Combat Controllers are the special forces servicemen of the Air Force, skilled in just about anything they touch and tougher than an entire hockey team. They are often paired with Army Green Berets, providing them a point of contact for Airpower, a sort of 911 for when they need additional steel on target to protect the team of the locals with whom they are working. Combat Controllers’ paychecks are right around the poverty line, yet these guys give more to their job than any million-dollar CEO, with probably more credibility and professional knowledge.

Mark was out with a team of Special Forces in a small village of Afghanistan, working closely with local militia to rid the area of Taliban and help establish schools, medical clinics and a more stable life than what they previously knew. They ran into trouble, and my squadron flew missions in support of their movement in the area. In a particular fight, his radio operator was wounded, and Mark continued to call down airstrikes upon the enemy to protect his team and the Afghani soldiers fighting alongside them. When the fighting got so close that he knew his team would be overrun unless he did something drastic, he called in airstrikes on his own position, which was at the leading edge of friendly forces. He saw his position as hopeless, but he would not give up his post without knowing that those behind him had a fighting chance. He was killed in the attack.

The next individual I thought of was a close college friend of mine. He flew special operations missions during the first nights of the war in Afghanistan, only to return home and be killed on a training mission in Puerto Rico. My friend left a wife and two beautiful children who will have to rely on their mother’s memory and effort to share with them what a wonderful man their father was. His wife will have to play both father and mother to two children who deserved nothing less than two loving parents.

I think of a young Army Sergeant who convinced his commander to change seats with him in their vehicle during a random trip through Iraq to visit his troops. The soldier was worried that they were developing a routine on the trip, and did want to see his commander injured. On the very next stop, a sniper shot and killed the Sergeant, a bullet that was meant for his commander. His commander’s children will grow up with a father because of the pre-meditated and selfless act of that young hero.

Chris Hayes of MSNBC demonstrated his ignorance about war when expressing discomfort about using the term ‘hero’ when talking about our fallen soldiers. In the ugliness that is war, no soldier wants it to continue. No soldier glories in the victories more than he glories in the safety of his fellow soldiers. With all that is vicious and terrible about war, the extreme nature of it all often brings out the best in humankind, an overwhelming desire to give fully for those around you. It seems odd to talk of love in the same breath as war, but love is what drives the aforementioned heroes–and thousands like them–to literally give their lives for those around them. In my time in a war zone, there was no feeling as futile as when my efforts were not enough to save someone. Similarly, my heart has never been more full when I witnessed ordinary servicemen risk everything for another. And the amazing thing is that more often than not, the act of love is automatic. Without really thinking about the consequences, so many servicemen have lain down their lives when a moment of danger called for it. Each will have previously thought through their loved ones’ lives without them, and that pain and fear is not without scars. None of them want to die. But when forced to make that selfless decision, they HONOR their loved ones and save their comrades.

War in the foxhole is not about policy or National Strategy. It can’t be. It is about doing your job, striving to act as morally as possible in a situation that often tries your moral fiber. It is about acting in a selfless way when so many of us selfishly run from such a stark mortal challenge. It’s about finding a bit of divine nature within, a willingness to lay down a life for another. God bless the heroes among us, and those who have given their last full measure for us. Thank God he sent us souls as these to fight our wars. Happy Memorial Day.