We meet people every day by chance. Sometimes those people, through who they are and what they have faced, can impact you in ways you couldn't have imagined.
On Friday evening, we pulled into a campsite as dark was falling at Silver Falls State Park. We had booked at the last minute, and instead of getting the usual out of the way private site we prefer, we got a site on the inside of the loop, where your neighbours are so close you might as well be camping together. The people next to us were an older couple camping in an RV. They helped us back our trailer in and helped me move our picnic table while Shaun was occupied with something else. They played light tag with a flashlight with the boys while I ran around setting up in the dark and getting some food ready.
We wound up chatting with them quite a bit, since we were so close to each other there was no avoiding each other. They were down from Snohomish, WA, visiting their daughter who is attending law school in Salem for her birthday. Shaun wanted to see the inside of their RV, curious as to how it was laid out.
In one window of the RV was a photograph of their son. The other displayed a Purple Heart. A US Marine Corps flag waved from the front. I had seen the Purple Heart but thought perhaps the man was a veteran. I was wrong. They were the parents of Cpl Jeffrey Starr, a Marine killed in Iraq on Memorial Day, 2005.
After his death, a letter was found on this computer to his girlfriend. It made him famous, and President Bush even read out a portion of it in a speech. They told Shaun this story, and he relayed part of it to me later.
You can read the whole story here.
The loss of a son is a sadness I can't begin to imagine. Under these circumstances, and followed by that sort of press attention - well, it's all so far beyond my comprehension.
They were wonderful people, incredibly warm and friendly, eager to help and treated our kids like they were their own grandchildren. They clearly raised an amazing child. My heart breaks for them that he was lost this way.
Last Memorial Day I had trouble expressing to my kids what it was all about. I won't anymore. I will tell them about this family. They are now the face of the war to me. I hope to contact them again, because as we sat under the towering Oregon trees, I couldn't find any words for their loss. I'm still a little lost for words. I am hoping will I will come up with some way to express to them how that chance meeting impacted me.
All I can think to do is to share this story, and hope that it impacts you, too. And that not only he will be remembered, but the parents who loved and nurtured him and are left with a hole in their hearts and lives will be remembered too.