Sergeant Alex Fuller hailed from the depressed coastal town of New Bedford, Massachusetts. His brothers and sister did stints in prison; he sold drugs himself as a teen, and barely earned a GED.
Then he found a home in the army. He excelled, he loved it, and even made sergeant in record time. Most of all he was my friend. His story didn't end well, of course. On January 25, 2007 his body was shattered by a massive improvised explosive device (IED) in East Baghdad, Iraq. He was 21. His 19-year-old wife was pregnant. His family buried him on Cape Cod. Such is life.
We're expected to honor such sacrifice each Memorial Day. At least that's what tradition holds. But how best to do that? These days, most Americans, and especially their political leaders choose the vapid, simplistic path: "thanking" soldiers, flying flags, sticking yellow ribbons on car bumpers. There's nothing inherently wrong with all this, of course, but let's not pretend it helps anything. Stacy Fuller named Al's daughter after him. My oldest son's name is Alex. Many of us honor him with our memories, recollections, thoughts, and symbols such as memorial bracelets. But it's not enough. It's far from sufficient.