Long ago, in another lifetime, I was a soldier.
It’s a noble profession, but in many ways, thankless. That’s not a pejorative, either: mostly appreciated in dangerous times, the soldier often is forsaken during peace and prosperity.
We come to expect this, so perhaps that’s how it should be. My college roommate, Dominic Rocco Baragona, would have agreed. Eleven years ago this month he died a senseless death in Iraq, just days before coming home.
And while the reason for and conduct of that war remains a topic of national debate, Dom believed in his job as a soldier to carry out his duty, give his best, and see his troops home safely. Which, even in death, he did.
I told his story, “My unending Memorial Day,” in my Portland Sun column this week. It’s a quintessentially American tale that plays out in all corners of our nation, be it Dom’s home town of Niles, Ohio, or anywhere here in New England:
The late literary critic Paul Fussell, who was badly wounded in WWII while serving as a rifle platoon leader, once famously noted that despite his long career in the halls of the Ivy League, he still viewed the world through the eyes of a pissed-off infantryman.
While the reasons for such anger are legion, on some level, almost everyone who has worn a uniform does that.
Today, however, my fury over Dom’s death is extinguished, replaced by appreciation, and yearning.
I long for everyone never to forget these men and women. For citizens in towns across America to repair decaying monuments and cemeteries, and preserve the marbles we mark with holiday flags a few times a year - before the weeds overtake them, and our memory.
So on this Memorial Day, I’ll set aside myth and romance for reality. What about you? Did you have a Dominic in your life, or know of a family that had one? Or do you know of someone who survived war but was so changed by it? Who were they?
Tell us right here, below, if you have a moment to spare.
We must never forget their names.