MEMORABLE MEMORIAL DAY
On Saturday we attended the
wedding of my nephew at a country club in the rolling hills of Peterborough,
NH. A gorgeous day, kids running around, music playing, good food and drink.
Still, in the back of my mind, I was considering, as always, the extra
burden of this Memorial Day weekend. With our country at war and severely
divided over that war, I was giving an extra dose of thanks to those who
have served, past, present and future, so that the rest of us may enjoy days
and events exactly like the one I was at. There would be no snipers here
today, no roadside bombs on the journey here, and no air attacks to worry
about today. A typically American event, but not to be taken for granted. We
could enjoy the company of family and friends, dwell on the future of the
new young couple, and wishes of good fortune for all present. I had been
there half an hour or so before a very special surprise came my way.
The Quilty family is close to my brother and sister-in-law. They are family
in Italian terms, that is to say, cousins removed in a way too convoluted to
detail here. Janet Quilty's brother is a good friend of mine and is pictured
at this website under "Guest Columns/Photos" with a cell phone held to his
head with a rubber band. I'll do a column, or perhaps a psychological
evaluation, on him another time. Janet's son is First Lt. Scott Quilty who
was on national news not long ago when he received a Purple Heart directly
from President Bush at Walter Reed Hospital. What I didn't know was that
Scott was here today, and I would finally get to meet, and thank him.
On October 1st, 2006 after being in Iraq for just six weeks, Scott was
struck by a roadside bomb while on patrol. He was a platoon leader, 30 men,
and he had trained at Fort Drum in Watertown, New York. They were members of
the 10th Mountain Division, a Combat Infantry Unit. At the tender age of 26,
Scott was to lose a leg and an arm. He was lucky to have survived at all.
Flown first to Germany, and then later to Walter Reed, he is still in
rehabilitation there. Not once, through any of this ordeal, did he complain
or regret his service. His family stood by him for months as he underwent
over 15 surgeries. Skin grafts, closing of wounds, countless procedures
undoubtedly painful beyond reason, and still never even a hint of "poor me".
His girlfriend, also in the military, was working as a therapist in
Virginia. They asked if she could be transferred to Walter Reed to be near
Scott and to work with him through the arduous recovery process. Not unless
she was Scott's wife, they were told, so the two of them planned a surprise.
One day, while family was present, the Chaplain arrived in Scotts room, and
to the complete surprise of everyone, they were married. His wife is now
with him at Walter Reed, helping him on his journey to recovery.
Janet invited me over to meet Scott and his wife, and I had to choke back
tears as I shook his left hand. Even with everything he has seen and been
through already in his young life, he seemed like a kid to me. And yet, he
is no kid. He embodies everything that is noble about America. Handsome,
well-spoken and humble. I was stunned to be shaking hands with a true
American Hero, and thanked him for his selfless contribution to the safety
of our nation. I wished him and his wife the best of futures and a happy,
healthy family. I thought about the countless times, from this point
forward, that his sacrifice will affect him. All the things the rest of us
do with our children that will be difficult for him. All the things the rest
of us do in the course of an average day that will be difficult for him. All
of the thousands of other young men and women who have suffered the same
fate, or worse, and who will be reminded of it everyday, for the rest of
After chatting with Scott I stepped outside, back into the sun, and felt as
though I had undergone an epiphany. I reflected on all of our service men
and women, all of our battles throughout history, of those who gave the
ultimate sacrifice, never to return home and to have died in the dust in
foreign lands. How terribly sad it all is, and how incredibly fortunate are
the rest of us who enjoy the life afforded us by those who gave all. There
must be a better way, I thought, for us all to inhabit this planet together
with our diversity, without the need for so much blood and despair. More
importantly, I thought about how the ideals of yesterday are not gone, as we
are all sometimes led to believe. That today's youth is disenfranchised, not
interested in, or cognizant of, how blessed we are to live where we do.
Scott Quilty is living, breathing proof that those ideals are alive and
well. His parents and family are, as they should be, bursting with pride at
the fine young man they have raised. So am I.