"Who knew Fairbanks was so fabulous! " Michelle
Drew’s granddaddy died yesterday. It brought to mind a quote I’d been carrying around my whole adult life — something about November being the best month to die. My mother died during a November. And so did my friend Courtney’s father. I remember sending the quote to him in a condolence card.
It seems as though there’s a theme every time I come back to Fairbanks. When we first got here last December it was the “violent soldier” triple-double. First there was the sentencing of a solider who tied his wife up with duct tape, then the mental health soldier who killed his wife, and then there was the dude who punched his baby.
This time it’s death.
Robert “The Pipe Man” Newman died and his family unloaded all of his worldly possessions via public auction. Athabascan leader, activist and elder Hannah Solomon died and was honored and celebrated for days in an outpouring of love and respect with potlatch, fundraisers, services, and lengthy feature stories in The Daily News-Miner.
And then there were the Strykers.
Nineteen soldiers from the Fort Wainwright Stryker Brigade have been killed since deploying in April. (Someone please correct me if this number is wrong). I went to a memorial for 4 of those soldiers in October at the Southern Lights Chapel on post. I didn’t know these soldiers, so why did I go? First, as part of this Army community I wanted to pay my respects. Second, we have few friends who are part of the Stryker Brigade and…there, but for the grace of God. Third: curiosity. I’m still new to all of this and I had no idea what happens at the memorials. And lastly, part of me went for selfish reasons. I thought it would be easier to go to a memorial if I didn’t know any of the soldiers personally.
I was wrong.
The chapel was jam-packed and overflowing. At the foot of the altar, four helmets balanced on four rifles which were planted between four pair of boots – forming the traditional Fallen Soldier Memorial Cross. Daylight streamed into the back of the chapel from an open door to the right of me where seven soldiers were lined up outside with rifles, waiting to fire off the twenty one gun salute. The soldiers were eulogized. A lone bugler played taps. But the absolute hardest part was roll call. The soldier’s name is called once, twice and by the third time, the weighty permanence of his absence becomes desperately overwhelming. There was not a dry eye in the house.
Granddaddy will have a nice service on Saturday. We spent Thanksgiving with him last week. He was in pain but happy to see us. Witty and jovial, he shared his love of “Wheel of Fortune,” bits of life wisdom, and stories about The Master’s and of his own time in the service as an aerial photographer. We were given the rare opportunity of saying our final goodbyes in person.
“If one has to die, I should think November would be the best month for it. It is a gray, stormy month; the salmon are dying, and the year is done.” Roderick Haig-Brown, A River Never Sleeps