The conflicting emotions of the Memorial Day holiday

I sometimes wonder if it is sacrilege that I consider Memorial Day the first day of summer. The one holiday where we remember those soldiers who never made it out of their uniforms. The ones who sacrificed their lives so that we can have a free and fair country.

On the other hand, I think of the men and women I served with, the ones who didn’t make it back home, and I believe this is what they would have wanted. Something very few people understand is that the soldiers they show in movies don’t exist. Your average soldier is between 18 and 25 years old.

If they ever wanted to make a realistic movie about combat, they would hire whatever actors they have on the current teen drama. I think if my last action on this earth happened when I was 20, I could think of nothing I’d like better than for the entire country to have a barbecue in my honor. One thing about soldiers is they work hard and party even harder. I’m sure on Memorial Day, they look down and enjoy themselves as much as we do.  

Something I often think about this time of year is just how fast it happens. One minute you can be sitting there, smoking and joking, and the next, casualties happen. The average fire fight in combat maybe lasts 10 or 15 minutes. However, it seems like an eternity.

I remember one time in Iraq our IP station came under heavy fire. They needed additional rounds for the 203 grenade launcher up on the roof. I had several, so I ran up there to help. In the small stairwell, I ran into one of the other soldiers - we stopped for a second because there wasn’t really enough room for the two of us to pass in all of our battle rattle.

Then right in between us as we stopped, a bullet hit the wall. If we had been one or two steps different, it would have definitely hit one of us about waist high. That is just how it works.

Sometimes the best soldier is just the luckiest. I had a young driver when I was in Iraq. We called him mole because he always seemed to have dirt on his face. Which we probably all did, but it fit his personality as well.

One time he was standing in between the Humvees, and they sent a bunch of mortars down on our position. Despite what the movies show, many don’t make a whistling sound, and you only know they are there when they explode.

All of a sudden, mole just wasn’t there anymore. He took one of the fins from the mortar in the chest. Thankfully, the Kevlar plate absorbed the blast, and he was young and bendy so he wasn’t hurt at all. 

All of the training in the world doesn’t matter if you are in the wrong spot at the wrong time. I regret that not all soldiers get to come home and wish that was not the case. I hope everyone gets to be with family and have a great barbecue to bring in summer and remember all of the fallen soldiers that gave us so much freedom.

David Koen is an Amarillo native who owns Doche Cleaners and is an active member of the Dry Cleaning and Laundry Institute. Learn more at