Memorial Day always arrives with a feeling of melancholy. One of the best friends I ever had gave his life on a mountain ridge in a region of the Kandahar Province of Afghanistan. Daniel Henry Petithory was created to be a soldier. I use to tell him that he needed to be in a glass case with a sign that read: Break Glass in Case of War. We met at our first duty station, after basic training, at Fort McClellan. Dan a native of Massachusetts and I of Alabama, we found a common ground for the love of country, cars, weapons, and . . . my sister. Dan had a wonderful laugh that accompanied his sense of humor. Even to this day, when I sip a cup of coffee in the morning, I still think of me and Dan in the field when he use to sip the evil, black brew, the Army labeled as coffee, and he would say, “Ahhhhhh, that’s a good cup of Joe.”
I was eventually sent to Kaiserslautern, Germany. During this time, Dan and my sister were becoming more and more serious. I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect brother-in-law, and I secretly wished that it would happen. After I left, Dan requested Special Forces and was accepted into qualifying school. It was his destiny. Again, he was created to be a soldier. When others would take leave and visit family or take a trip to the beach, Dan would disappear into the woods behind the company for a week or so. He constantly honed his body and skills to be the best soldier he could be. Because of his intense training, Dan and I only had smatterings of contact. Letters from my family told me that my sister and Dan’s relationship slowly dissolved, and I knew it was for the best; there would have countless days of loneliness in the Dan’s field of soldiering. Special Forces left many marriage corpses along the way, and Sandie and Dan could see that road and decided against taking it.
Years slide by in the military. I never planned on making it a career. I just wanted to serve my country, be honorably discharged, and become a police officer (a plan that would later change again). While sitting in my living room one afternoon, the phone rang. I answered.
“Hey, man! This is Dan.”
He didn’t have to say his name. I recognized his voice immediately. True friendship is often determined by the amount of time that passes between visits and how the conversation just picks up like it was yesterday; with me and Dan, it was just that. We talked for a while on everything from the military, weapons, cars, and . . . my sister. Dan asked how she was and told him she was fine. In the passing years, she had become married and had two beautiful daughters. He gave me a message to relay to her and that he wished her the best in life. Dan never married. Toward the end of the conversation, Dan mentioned that he was about 40 miles away at Fort Rucker for the day and asked for me to come see him. Now, understand that in this phase of my life my wife and I were happy and blessed with two children, but times were tough. I didn’t have the gas to go see Dan, and to this day, I don’t know why I just didn’t tell Dan that. Pride I guess. Stupid. I asked Dan if he might could slip out and come see me. He had had a flight into the fort that morning and had no vehicle. We talked more, and I made up an excuse that I don’t even remember, as to why I could drive to the fort. That was August of 2001.
Four years before that phone call, I had decided to become a English teacher and did just that. Now it was my first year teaching. I was a rookie teacher and driving to work in the early morning hours of December 2001. The Twin Towers had been attacked only a few months earlier. The country had been rocked, but now moved into a predatory mode of finding those responsible for the cowardly acts. My ride to work that morning was in cold and crisp weather. I was listening to National Public Radio when a news break interrupted programming. The first casualties of the War on Terror had happened. Being a soldier and already feeling torn to run back into the military, I focused in on the names. The names were read . . . Sergeant First Class Daniel Henry Petithory. I couldn’t stop shaking and had to stop on the side of the road to collect myself. I don’t remember the date. I should, but I don’t. Dan had been killed by friendly fire, during a bombing run on a Taliban convoy. Almost immediately, the phone call from Dan resurfaced. Regret. Nausea. Anger at myself.
To this day, I think of Dan quite often. I have a picture of him in my office. I miss you, my friend. I hope to tell you one day how sorry I am for not being honest with you or just borrowing the money from someone to make the trip. You are a hero of mine. I still smile at the funny things you said and when I sip my coffee in the mornings. Our country is grateful for your sacrifice and the sacrifice of your mom and dad, Louis and Barbara. Rest in peace.