Sunday, May 24, 2015


Jay-D Ornsby
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 manner.  

“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 right!’”

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 someone.”

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 opportunities.”  

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

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