Memorial Day – a day to honor the memories of those men and women who have died in the service of our country. First celebrated as a national holiday in 1866, the date May 30 was chosen specifically because it was not the date or anniversary of a battle. Credit for the day of national recognition is given to General John Murray and General John A. Logan for their belief that the graves of all soldiers across the land should be decorated in the tradition of the ancient Greeks and their fallen heroes.
I honor these heroes today.
I honor the memory of one special hero, Marine Lance Corporal Dimitrios Gavriel.
Dimi died November 19, 2004, as a result of enemy action in Al Anbar Province, Iraq. He was assigned to 1st Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force, Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.
This is how I know Dimi.
When Audrey met Matthew on the campus of Brown University almost a decade ago, Dimi also became a great presence in her life. Dimi was Matt’s best friend, and Dimi held a special place in Matt’s life. Dimi would be the Best Man at Audrey and Matt’s wedding ceremony on June 30, 2001. Dimi’s apartment is where Audrey and Matt would stay as they searched for their own place in New York City.
Dimi is with whom Matthew would find places to fish in and around New York City. Dimi is who would travel to Rhode Island on weekends that Audrey and Matt were at my home… and Matt and Dimi would disappear for hours and hours on their fishing expeditions. I can still see Dimi’s old diesel Mercedes parked in front of my home.
I vividly remember the last time I saw Dimi. I thank God it was a perfect day. Dimi was visiting for the weekend, and of course he stopped in to see Matt and Audrey at our former home in Bristol, Rhode Island. My husband and I stored Matt’s canoe under our back porch, so it wasn’t a second or two before the two of them were hauling it out and heading down the street to the Bristol Harbour. On that summer day the wind was whipping forcefully, but Matt and Dimi had the no-fear of two hearty mates and manuevered that canoe down-harbor with the gusto of a couple of seasoned sailors.
Audrey was terrified that they were going to capsize… but they didn’t. And they crawled out of the canoe to tell about it. Audrey, my husband and I met them at journey’s end, at a little outdoor seafood place, Quito’s. We laughed. We drank beer. We ate New England’s finest.
The day was one of joy. Of sharing. And Dimi talked of the Marines and his decision to enlist. He had built a promising career for himself on Wall Street after graduating from Brown University, but the loss of friends on 9/11, and the calling of a greater course, led him to enlist. He was 27 years old.
A woman at the next table heard Dimi explain his decision and asked him what his mother thought of his enlistment. Women think like this. Women think like mothers. Dimi’s dark eyes, usually twinkling with some mischief, became serious and earnest. I don’t remember his exact words… and I would never try to put his words into my own… but he explained, ever succinctly in the way Dimi explained everything, that his mother was frightened for him, for her, for his dad and sister… but they all supported his passion and his mission once the decision was a final decision.
The woman wished him safety, and luck. We drank some more beer and we talked some more in the warm summer sun.
Then my most vivid memory of Dimi happened. A memory that I will cherish for all time.
Matt and Dimi knew that they had consumed too much beer to hop back into the canoe, and besides, they would be rowing up-harbour against the wind. So they did what any able-bodied young men would do… they put the canoe over their heads and began to walk back to my house.
Well, the walk was less than a mile… but as Audrey and I followed them in her car, we laughed so hard that she could hardly hold onto the steering wheel. All we could see were four legs and a canoe. Four legs and a canoe walking up the street in the warm summer sun of a perfect day.
We tooted the horn as we passed them… then we waited for them on my old front porch.
When Dimi left later that evening, I kissed him good-bye. I wished him safety and luck. My husband grasped his hand and they fell into a hug.
Three months later we would hear the most tragic news that Dimi had been killed in action. November 19, 2004.
Today I honor all the heroes who have fallen in service to our country.
Today I honor our friend, Marine Lance Corporal Dimitrios Gavriel… my hero.