December 9, 1985 - April 28, 2007
Today I spoke with a Gold Star Mom – a mother
who has lost a son in the service of our country. She’s not just any mother, she’s the mom of
my daughter Alicia’s long time best friend, Morgan: Robyn Ornsby.
Like any Gold Star Mom, Memorial Day is not
just another national holiday- it’s a time to grieve the child they have lost
in protecting the United States. It is
the one day that they are joined in their grief by all of us, as we stop our
lives and remember the fallen soldiers that made life in America possible for
the rest of us.
“Ever since I lost my boy I have battled
with why people don’t celebrate this holiday,” Robyn told me. “I have a hair salon and if I ask a group of
fifty people what Memorial Day is, only one or two will know exactly who we are
remembering.” She’s not exaggerating;
according to the most recent Gallup poll, only a fraction of Americans know what
Memorial Day is. Specifically, 28%
answer the question exactly right by saying the day exists to honor
those who died in war.
Those who have died in war leave behind
families – they remember the veterans as more than just soldiers.
|Jay-D - Two Days Old|
“My Jay-D was born a mischievous little monkey,”
Robyn laughed. “Honestly, he was a
little character who found joy in challenging me!” Her laughter faded and she sighed, “I would
give anything to have him here challenging me now.”
Jay-D was born on December 9, 1985 and
seemed to be all boy through and through right away. “He was mighty and tough, and he wouldn’t
tolerate anyone bullying him. He’d give
them a good fight.” Robyn was always trying
to teach the delicate balance of sticking up for oneself and self-control,
especially when Jay-D started sticking up for his friends in the same
“I would get a call from the principal's office, and they'd tell me that Jay-D was in there for fighting a boy who was bullying someone else,” Robyn told
me. “When he got home, I asked him why he would fight
other people’s battles, and he answered me straight: ‘Well, it just didn’t seem
Jay-D seemed drawn to help the
disadvantaged, from the underdogs at school to the handicapped. “At a time when it was not cool for him to
help the Down Syndrome kids in school, he would. We were at the movies once and a man in a
wheelchair was trying to gain access and the other teens were just
watching. It was Jay-D who stood up and
helped the man open the door and find his way down the aisles. He was just like that, always helping
The boy who fought other people’s battles
grew to have his own tender interior. “He
taught himself how to play guitar, he loved ‘Sweet Home Alabama,’ which he
played very well.”
After high school, Jay-D chose to enlist in
the US Army, since career opportunities seemed more promising after finishing
school. “Jay-D wanted to get his life
started,” Robyn said. “He knew that if
he enlisted he would be able to earn money for college and get other
At twenty years old, he was
enlisted, sworn in and enrolled in boot camp.
It was there that he became a soldier.
“Once boot camp was over,” Robyn told me.
“Everything changed. He was very
focused on fighting for his country.
Shortly after, he was deployed to Bagdad, Iraq, where he served as a
tanker gunner. While the main gun is
what most people think of when it comes to tanks, Jay D was part of the crew
that operated the machine guns mounted outside.
With a heavy heart, Robyn told me about the
day her son was killed. “It was actually
supposed to be his day off. He wasn’t supposed
to work that day, but they needed him.
He agreed to go, not only because he was part of a team, but also he
could apply that day to his next leave.”
Instead of their usual tank, the team took a Hummer as part of a convoy
and made their way through the streets.
On the side of the road, waiting, was the enemy. As soon as the company’s Hummer was in range,
the enemy exploded an IED – an Improvised Explosive Device.
It was a massive tragedy. Of the four soldiers in Jay-D’s Hummer, three
were killed. The enemy was fired upon by
the surviving convoy and killed, but their deaths do not satisfy. War, as they say, is hell.
“I was able to bury Jay-D in Sunset View, a cemetery
in Jackson,” Robyn said, after she composed herself. “It is a beautiful and peaceful place.” Tomorrow, for the holiday, the Ornsby’s will
host a BBQ and celebrate Jay-D’s memory with friends. “I have a decorated wine barrel here, and I
will burn a candle for my son all day.”
For Memorial Day, this Gold Star Mom has a
cherished wish: that Americans would stop and remember what this day really is
all about. “I see the advertisements for
the Auto Malls, the shopping centers, and the grocery stores. All of them say “Memorial Day Sale!” I wonder if they will honor any fallen
Veterans there; I think they won’t. It’s
all a money-making opportunity then.”
|Morgan and her baby, Jay-D|
(named after his Uncle)
I think about Jay-D a lot. His sister (my daughter’s bestie) has a young
son he will never meet. He’s a beautiful
bundle of joy – named Jay-D.
“I love little Jay-D!” Robyn says, her
voice lifting with excitement. “Morgan
shares him with me and I watch him every Monday!”
Everyone who has lost a person close to
them know the painful reality that life goes on. While it does, it helps to grieve with
others. On Monday, we all grieve
together. I will grieve with the Ornsby’s
for their son; I will grieve for all who fell in battle.
Our soldiers are more than men and women in uniform. They are someone's baby, someone's spouse, someone's uncle or aunt. I will grieve the fallen; I will celebrate the
freedom that I have inherited because of them.
That’s what Memorial Day is.
|(Uncle) Jay-D December 1985 Baby Jay-D May 2015|