Not because I’m morbid and want to encourage the feeling of impending doom, but because a well-written obituary is a great story.
And to read a story of a life well-lived is to honor that life, in some small way.
So, yeah, I read obituaries and I say a little thank you to the person who’s gone… a thank you for being a doctor and a cheesemaker, or a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist turned professor, or a Medal of Honor winner who continued to help veterans for thirty years after his service ended.
It was appropriate that the last story, honoring the life of Sergeant Vernon McGarity, appeared in The Washington Post on Memorial Day weekend and, noting the timing, I took a slow and careful read through his obituary. Here’s the piece if you’d like to read it:
Sometimes I wonder what it would be like to be tested like Sergeant McGarity was.
I wonder what it would be like to be in a battle where the American forces suffered 89,500 casualties including 19,000 killed, 47,500 wounded and 23,000 missing. Would I stand up like Sergeant McGarity and fight for my squad with grit and tenacity, regardless of the personal consequence? Would I – could I – do it?
And to then spend time in a prisoner of war camp? In winter? For the duration of the war?
To be honest, I don’t know that any of us who’ve not been tested in that way know what we’d do if the moment came, but in reading Vernon McGarity’s story, I saw an example of what’s possible when someone stands up and shows up.
I saw a path through any kind of challenge:
Do what needs to be done under whatever circumstances you find yourself in.
The Post story says, “Reflecting on the battle years later, Sgt. McGarity told an interviewer, ‘The last words I heard were to hold at all costs.'”
And so that’s what he did. He held.
Against all odds.
Without regard to personal cost.
With the highest distinction.
And adherence to integrity.
Sergeant Vernon McGarity did what needed to be done. Just as our men and women in uniform have done for centuries in this country, and are doing this very day.
“‘Next time we feel like giving up, we’ll remember Vernon McGarity,’ reads the Checkerboard tribute,” the Washington Post reports, quoting a 1970 tribute by the 99th Infantry Division’s publication. “‘Next time we think we have an impossible job, with nothing but trouble and no hope of recognition, we’ll remember Vernon McGarity — he proved that we can win by coming back for more.’ ”
To all who serve, and who have served, and the families that love and support them… thank you. You live lives that matter – to all of us.