Memorial Day used to be just another holiday. Not anymore. That changed for me in 2006. For the past twelve years I have paused over this sacred weekend to remember a late-night phone call and a cold January afternoon at Arlington National Cemetery. I pause to remember my nephew, Sgt. Adam Leigh Cann, USMC and the thousands of others who have given their lives on the battlefield for the cause of freedom.
Adam was born on January 25, 1982. He was my older sister’s second son. That’s him and his brother, Justin in the picture above. Blonde haired. Blue eyed. He was like any other kid. Full of mischief. Loving life. I can still see him and his brothers, Justin and Stephen, swimming in the pool with their granddaddy and standing in the front yard showing off the the fish they caught. My father absolutely adored those three boys. They were his first grandchildren, and it was so much fun watching them spend time with him.
After graduating from high school, Justin and Adam both enlisted in the Marine Corps. By the time the US declared war on terror in 2001, both were on active duty. The fact that they joined the armed forces was not a surprise. They had plenty of family heroes who had gone before them including both of their grandfathers who had a profound influence over the boys.
My father served as a radio operator and gunner on a B-17 in World War II. He spent over two years as a prisoner of the Germans. I have three brothers-in-law who have served including one who remains on active duty. My father-in-law was an army helicopter pilot. My younger brother served briefly in the Army before being medically discharged because of a bum knee. I can’t even count the number of extended family members and friends who have worn our nation’s uniforms.
I admire and respect everyone who serves or has served in our nation’s military. The very fact they serve means they are willing to put their lives on the line. That’s a big deal. But those who have volunteered to serve during times of war deserve special honor. Adam not only served during a time of war. He reenlisted during the war. He volunteered for a second tour of duty in Iraq after having also served a tour in Afghanistan. He was scheduled to return to the US in March and had already volunteered for a third tour in Iraq.
Early in the morning of January 5, 2006 Adam was working a security detail with his partner, Bruno, a bomb-sniffing German Shepherd. They were patrolling an Iraqi police recruiting station in Ramadi where over a thousand potential recruits had shown up. According to reports Adam noticed one person in the crowd who acted suspiciously. When Bruno alerted on the suspected target, Adam realized the man was wearing explosives and threw himself into the terrorist as the suspect detonated the bomb. Adam was killed instantly. Bruno was wounded. Hundreds of American soldiers and Iraqi citizens were saved.
There is an eight hour time difference between Ramadi, Iraq and Talladega, Alabama where I lived at the time. While Adam was giving his life to save others on that Thursday morning, I was sleeping on Wednesday night. I got up on Thursday morning oblivious to what had happened halfway around the world. I took Robert to school. I went to the office and finished writing Sunday’s sermons. I made a hospital visit or two that afternoon. Then I headed home for the day.
A little after 9:00 that night Melanie and I were watching one of our favorite television shows. The phone started to ring. Typically, when a pastor’s phone rings after 9:00 at night there is going to be a crisis on the other end of the line. More often than not, someone has died.
I was expecting bad news from whoever was calling, but the news I got literally dropped me to my knees. My younger sister was on the other end of the line. I will never forget her words, “Rob, Adam is gone.” I didn’t understand what she meant, so I asked her, “What do you mean, he’s gone?” She said, “He’s gone. He was killed this morning by a suicide bomber in Iraq.” I must have wailed because the next thing I knew Melanie had run into the room and was holding me. Between sobs I told her what I knew.
It would be nearly three weeks before we made the trip to Washington, DC for Adam’s funeral and burial at Arlington National Cemetery. It was bitterly cold as the honor guard laid his body to rest among thousands of other American heroes there beside the Potomac River. Adam was the first US military canine-handler to be killed in action since the Vietnam War. He was awarded the Bronze Star Medal for Valor.
So, for the past twelve Memorial Day weekends I have remembered. I have remembered Adam and the thousands of other men and women who died protecting our great nation. Enjoy your weekend. But remember this is not just another holiday.