Remember the fallenHURON — Warriors he lived with and fought alongside during his five tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan will always remain in the heart of Marty Skovlund Jr.
But it was the first memorial service he attended for a fallen soldier in his battalion that he says will especially be in his thoughts.
“I have attended many memorial services since then, but that first one will stay with me forever, and it’s the one that I think about on Memorial Day,” he said Monday.
Skovlund shared his memories about a few of the fellow rangers he came to know, but who didn’t make it home. More than 1.1 million Americans have made the ultimate sacrifice.
He said he thinks of the ones he knew and the Gold Star families and the tremendous pain they have endured.
“Of course, I’m just as happy as the next guy to have a long weekend off from work, to have family and friends over and throw food on the grill,” he said in his address at Huron’s Memorial Day program.
But he has mixed emotions as well, Skovlund said, because of his sadness for the friends he has lost.
“I firmly believe that keeping their names and memories alive is the best way to celebrate Memorial Day,” he said.
He said the fallen warriors he was lucky enough to have known while serving overseas were truly exceptional human beings.
Skovlund will never forget those first days as a ranger in the 1st Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment.
“I was scared out of my mind and wondering what I had gotten myself into when a short, stocky guy from Arizona knocked on my door just after we were released for the weekend,” he said.
He introduced himself to Skovlund and suggested they go for a run so he could show the new guy around the base.
As he rose through the ranks, that soldier never quit being a great leader, Skovlund said.
“He was a ranger through and through,” he said.
But he was killed in action.
Skovlund remembers another ranger who had a young family. Another was his squad leader.
“I had to deliver the news to one of his best friends, who I was standing right next to, a moment I won’t soon forget,” he said.
The memorial service was a first for Skovlund and for many others because it had been years since a ranger was killed.
At a ceremony known as the final roll call, the command sergeant major called out the soldier’s name — Staff Sgt. Anthony Davis — as if he was standing in the ranks and would answer.
“As I stood among that formation of rangers, it was all we could do to keep our composure,” Skovlund said.
One final time came the call — “Staff Sgt. Anthony ‘Cookie’ Davis.”
“His voice cracked as he inserted the nickname his friends all knew him by,” he said.
The silence that followed was deafening, the emotion in the air palpable.
Skovlund said to realize one’s own mortality at such a young age is a very powerful experience.
He said he has learned to live life as fully as he can, to honor those who didn’t come home.
“Mortality becomes very real,” he said. “We do, in fact, die, we don’t live forever. When we go, people will mourn.”