Monday, May 30, 2011

Honoring My Favorite Soldiers

Today is Memorial Day and, for most of us, this means a three day weekend, BBQs and retail sales; but today, I want to take a moment to let the world know how proud I am of my cousin, Specialist James Donovan U.S. Army, of Ft. Benning, GA.

(Just so you know Jimmy will absolutely hate that I am doing this!)

When I was 9 years old, my aunt Trish – who is only 11 years older than me – had Jimmy, her first child.  He was the cutest and happiest baby boy I ever met until I had my own son.

Jimmy and I both spent a lot of time with our Nana and they put his crib in the spare bedroom, which also had bunk beds for me as well.  As you can imagine, I thought Jimmy was my baby. 

Nana was around to oversee and make sure baby was safe; but I loved to feed Jimmy, put him in his crib, take him out of his crib (which caused a few head bumps since I could barely lift him), and play with him.

Then almost two years later, Jackie – Jimmy’s little baby sister -- came along.  I loved her just as much as her brother and, spent a lot of time with her too, but this little ditty is about Jimmy.

Our family is very close so there isn’t a time that I don’t remember almost always being with Jimmy and Jackie – especially the first decade of their lives – until I went away to college.

Little Jimmy
Cute baby Jimmy grew into an even cuter toddler. Imagine that!  He had blond hair and a cherubic face which always had a smile on it.  Honestly, I can’t even remember Jimmy crying as a baby. 

Once I went away to college, I unintentionally drifted away from my cousins.  Except for when I would drive home on the weekends with about 10 loads of laundry.  One time, as I pulled up to the house, the engine of my car caught on fire.  I had Jimmy - who was probably 12 - out there helping me pull all my clothes out of the trunk of my car. Even as the fire truck pulled up, I was shoving baskets of clothes in that poor little guys arms.  He kept saying that it was so hot, and I just kept shouting for him to get my clothes to safety. 

But alas, I didn't cause him injury and life went on. Jimmy and Jackie had their own teen-age lives and I was away at school.  Then, after graduation, I moved out West.

Thirteen years ago, both cousins made the trek to California for my wedding.  At the time, they were young adults – almost in their 20s.  Once again, it really wasn’t a time when I could catch up with them since I was in the midst of my wedding.

It was a few years later, I started going back to NJ for visits that lasted 10 days to 2 weeks and that was when we all really reconnected as adults.

After graduation, Jimmy landed a job with Toyota Motor Corporation.  He was there for about 10 years – except when he had taken some time off to pursue a career in Real Estate.  Jimmy was respected and revered in his role at Toyota.  He was one of their senior mechanics and an expert at what he did.  However, Jimmy’s real passion was to be in law enforcement.  I can only assume that his desire to protect and serve was the driving force behind that decision. Perhaps I helped to plant that seed by forcing him to help rescue my clothes from that burning car. 

Jimmy applied to a local police department in New Jersey; but didn’t hear back for such a long time that he pulled the trigger and joined the army. The most important protect and serve if you ask me. He actually received his acceptance letter from the police academy once his contract with the Army was locked down.

But I am a true believer of everything happens for a reason.

Jimmy entered the army about three years ago and has dedicated his life to our country.  He did a year-long tour of duty in Iraq. But he's been back in Georgia for a while now, and will do one more tour – possibly in Afghanistan - next year.

In March, Jimmy and I were back in New Jersey for a family emergency.  While there, we were together a lot, and this was the first time in a long time; But it was as if no time had passed.  While spending long hours at the hospital with our Nana, sometimes we talked and sometimes we didn't.  We were just comforted by being in each other's company.

I know that my whole family really came together for one another at that difficult time, but Jimmy and I really seemed to get some quality time together.

Specialist Donovan
It made me so proud to see the man that he has grown up to be.  Not just because he joined the army, but because he is just such a great human being.  He is compassionate and smart, but also a very strong man. But my Nana truly admired Jimmy and I think she was able to discern the man he would become even when he was just a teenager.  I know that she looked to him for guidance and respected his thoughts and opinions.  She loved him very much.

So, I just wanted to take a moment to praise my little cuz, who isn't so little anymore, and thank him for dedicating his life to the military for my family and all those other Americans as well.

And in respect of Memorial Day, I want to thank all the men and women in the military. They are risking their lives everyday, looking out for our well being, and keeping us safe.  Also, I don't want to forget those veterans who have served in years past to protect our freedom.

On March 20, my family also lost a strong Christian soldier.  My grandfather, Addison Loyal Williams, served in the Army during World War II with the 911th Field Artillery Battalion. During which time he received the Asiatic Pacific Theater Ribbon, Philippine Liberation Ribbon with Bronze Star, the World War II Victory Ribbon, and the Good Conduct Medal.

My Pop would tell me the same story time and time again.  He said that one of his most significant memories of California - while serving in the military - was when he returned from Asia and the warship he was on entered the San Francisco Bay. He told me that the Golden Gate Bridge was the first thing that he saw and it had made such an impression on him.  It was so beautiful there and so unlike the East Coast.  He never got a chance to come back out West, but I'm so glad he had that memory and many others from his time serving his country.

As we said goodbye to my Pop at his military funeral, a bugler sounded Taps in his honor and as the three young military men saluted him, we all bid him farewell for his final lights out.

So please, take time today to honor your favorite soldier -- or mine -- and just remember all those men and women out there who have selflessly committed their lives for our freedom.

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