Saturday’s Story: My Brother[s] the Hero

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So if you haven’t gotten it by now, I’m kind of a story teller. Or at least thats how all my posts turn out whether I intend it or not. I feel like my brain is a catalogued file-cabinet full of stories from growing up in a large family, home-schooling, “not” dating Matt ;), marrying in college, and then the real doozey–getting deported from Great Britain. But this isn’t about Britain (or is it, considering that we are about to celebrate our independence…hmmm. That could have been a great idea.).

No, instead I wish to briefly (yah right, you say) tell you a story about my brother who came out with an American flag attached to his umbilical cord. Not really, but he probably would have if he had a choice in the matter ????

Joe always wanted to be in the military. Joining was never a question, it was simply just a matter of “when.” And even with that the limit was pushed. He enlisted at 17. Many of you know Joe’s story. He truly is awarded as a hero by our country with his Purple Heart and Bronze Star. Joe was wounded in Iraq and even though his life was at risk he made a decision to protect the body of one fallen Marine and one living one. As amazing as that story is, this particular blog is not about that. Instead, I want to share some of the details that surrounded Joe’s initiation into the Marine Corps.
Joe left at the end of May for boot camp. It was a horribly emotional event for me, his little sis, to have him leave in a time of war. During this particular stage in life, Joe and I were best buds. We did everything together, and he was a huge support to me as I spent my first year at a new school in a new town. But it wasn’t just hard on me–it was hard on the whole family.

Joe and another one of our friends, Dan, enlisted at the same time and were to leave for bootcamp on the same day. We had a big going away party for them and lots of tears were shed. I remember after they left I was a basket case. I was standing by the road all alone, and Joe’s best friend, Chuck, came up to me and gave me a big hug.

He said, “Don’t worry, Hill. I’ll be your big brother while he’s gone. Anything you need, just call.” How I wish I would have taken him up on that phone call. I wish I would have gone to coffee, lunch, anything to have had that time with Chuck, who was already my big brother before that moment.

Probably if I could redo anything in life it would be to have made time for that.

Two weeks later, on June 11th, Chuck went to be with the Lord. I know I would not be alone in saying that that event changed my life more than anything. It’s hard to even put into words what kind of effect his leaving had on us all. All I know is that if you were there, I don’t even have to try to say it. It continues to affect us. And it should.
Joe had to hear about Chuck’s death from a Marine chaplain on base. He couldn’t come home–and I don’t think there was much opportunity to even grieve. He went through the remaining 11 grueling weeks of bootcamp with the burden and sorrow of losing his best friend. A brother.

We’ve talked about this time and Joe has shared how he felt like Chuck would have wanted him to continue. Chuck and Joe were very similar. Except for the enormous height difference (before Joe got his growth spurt there was a considerable resemblance to a certain movie poster from the 90’s. Just saying…) Joe and Chuck were cut from the same cloth.

Anyways, Joe wanted to be a Marine, Chuck was going to be a fireman. They both always had that thirst for adrenaline, recklessness, and curiosity necessary for both vocations. I know if Chuck were here right now he and Joe would have their stations engaged in full-blown cop and fireman wars. Am I right, or what?
When Joe came home from boot camp he was obsessed with a certain album from U2. He would blast the song “Where the Streets Have No Name” all the time. He told me that it was his boot camp song–the song he would think of during the hours of challenge and exhaustion. Have you heard the song? Its amazing. As a sophomore in high school I didn’t get it. I just liked the way it sounded. But I’ve since come to appreciate that what they are singing about has eternal connotations. Read these lyrics, and then go listen to the song if you haven’t already:
I want to run;
I want to hide.
I want to tear down the walls
That hold me inside.
I want to reach out
And touch the flame,
Where the streets have no name.
I want to feel sunlight on my face.
I see the dust cloud disappear
Without a trace.
I want to take shelter
From the poison rain
Where the streets have no name.
Where the streets have no name,
Where the streets have no name.
We’re still building
Then burning down love
Burning down loveAnd when I go there
I go there with you
Its all I can do.
The city’s aflood,
And our love turns to rust.
We’re beaten and blown by the wind
Trampled in dust
I’ll show you a place
High on a desert plain
Where the streets have no name.
It’s such a beautiful thing for me to imagine Joe running the dusty paths of his P.T. course while Chuck was running the golden ones in heaven. While we grieved and pounded on walls, Chuck reveled in tearing down the walls of physicality and separation. While the rest of us were grappling and struggling with battered love, Chuck was experiencing and rejoicing in the perfect love of Christ. Joe squinted in the scorching Iraqi sun while Chuck basked in the Eternal Son. And someday, we’ll get to go up to that plain where divisions are no more and enjoy the pleasure of endless streets, endless days, and endless peace.
On this Independence Day I am honoring two heroes: Joe and Chuck. Both are my brothers and they have both taught me a great deal about sacrifice. Joe has fought for my freedom and continues to protect people everyday as a cop. I am so proud of him for this. Chuck opened my mind for heaven. He went before all of us and will be there when we arrive. I am proud of him for this.
I am thankful for our country, for our freedom, and by golly that we are not part of England (hehe). But more than anything I am thankful for our true Country and our true Freedom. Chuck is my personal reference point to heaven. His is the face that appears whenever someone mentions that place. I don’t buy into the whole halo and wing thing, but I do sometimes indulge in picturing Chuck’s halo slightly askew and maybe an ACE bandage on one of his wings. He’s been there for nine years so I’m sure there’s been some damage and renovations. I hope so anyway ????
This July 4th, lets celebrate many things. Lets be thankful for those who go before us—whether that be on our dusty streets here or the ones on high in heaven.
Thank you, Joe. Thank you, Chuck. Can’t wait to see you two brothers together again!
But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself. Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved. Philippians 3:19-4:1.

5 thoughts on “Saturday’s Story: My Brother[s] the Hero

  1. hilljean

    Well, Hillary, this is a beautiful narration of a very hard thing for all of us. I too, think of Chuck when I think of heaven… and all of our best memories of childhood for you kids are connected to Chuck and Cara. I always thank God for the day He introduced me to Jeanette and we naively said, “Want to homeschool together?” We really didn’t have any idea… but it was the start of a forever friendship and has continued with our children being forever friends as well.
    Thanks for putting into words such beautiful thoughts.

    Reply
  2. Margo

    Well, Hillary, this is a beautiful narration of a very hard thing for all of us. I too, think of Chuck when I think of heaven… and all of our best memories of childhood for you kids are connected to Chuck and Cara. I always thank God for the day He introduced me to Jeanette and we naively said, “Want to homeschool together?” We really didn’t have any idea… but it was the start of a forever friendship and has continued with our children being forever friends as well.
    Thanks for putting into words such beautiful thoughts.

    Reply
  3. kirstykaree

    Hey Hill it’s Joe on Kirsty’s computer…
    You are the best sis, thanks for bringing tears to my eyes, just what I needed. You put everything into such a perfect perspective, everything from the U2 song and all. Thanks so much Hillary, I love you so darn much.

    Reply
  4. Amber Kanallakan

    Wow this post brought back so many memories. We all learned a lot that year huh? Thank you for sharing your heart. God is good all the time!!

    Reply

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