|R.I.P. PFC JAY-D ORNSBY ADKINS|
December 9, 1985 - April 28, 2007
Every year on Memorial Day, I remember one soldier—his name was Jay-D Ornsby-Adkins. He was handsome, funny, compassionate, kind to strangers, and enlisted in the US Army. I think of him to remember what Memorial Day is all about—to honor the soldiers and sailors who have paid the ultimate price while serving their country in the armed services. Jay-D was born on December 9, 1985 and was killed in Iraq on April 28, 2007, making him only twenty-one years old when he died.
The reason I know of Jay-D in the first place is because of Morgan, a girl who has been Alicia’s best friend since high school. It was not long after I met her that I found out her brother was killed in action.
It has made me see this holiday, Memorial Day, much differently.
Jay-D’s mother, Robyn, is a beautiful woman who now bears the dubious distinction of being a Gold-Star Mom. “I have a hair salon,” she once told me, “and every year I ask people if they know what Memorial Day is. Only one or two will know exactly what the holiday is for—only a few know who we are remembering.”
She’s not exaggerating. According to a recent Gallup poll, only 28% of Americans know that Memorial Day is specifically to honor those who died in war. Veteran’s Day is to honor those who served—Memorial Day is to honor those who have died in battle.
These fallen soldiers leave behind families. These families are given a folded flag and a thank you from the U.S. Government. We, as a nation, also grieve on this day, with them. We remember them as more than bodies on a field—we remember the people that they were.
“My Jay-D was born a mischievous little monkey,” Robyn told me, laughing. “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 grew up dearly loved, an active boy who loved to play. He was fearless and mighty, never running from any fight. “He wouldn’t tolerate anyone bullying him,” Robyn told me. “He’d give them a good fight, for sure.” Robyn stopped to explain how hard it was to teach Jay-D the delicate balance of sticking up for himself and having self-control. As soon as she felt he learned this lesson, he started sticking up for others.
“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 laughed. “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's anti-bullying campaign was in place long before any even existed. “At a time when it was not cool for anyone to help the Down Syndrome kid in school, he did. He would defend an underdog, stand up for the new kids, and even helped others when no one else would.”
The boy who fought for the rights of others also learned how to express 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.
Through tears, 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 his team 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-- and killed three of the four soldiers in Jay-D’s Hummer. The enemy was fired upon by the surviving convoy, but their deaths did not bring justice. War really is hell.
Robyn was able to bury Jay-D’s remains in Sunset View Cemetary, a place in Jackson. “It is a beautiful and peaceful place.”
Today, the Ornsby’s usually celebrate Jay-D’s memory with friends and close family. One year she decorated a wine barrel and burned a special candle, signifying how the light of love will always burn bright in her heart. She will take delight in having her grandson close by, a little boy named after his Uncle Jay-D.
|Robyn's Jay-D (1985) and Morgan's Jay-D (2015)|
For Memorial Day, please take a deep breath and remember a fallen hero. Think of Jay-D, his heart of gold, and his Gold Star Mom, Robyn. Remember his sister, Morgan, who honors her family and her brother's memory every day of her life.
Resolve to be part of the minority of Americans that remember what this day really is all about. “I see the advertisements for the Auto Malls, the shopping centers, and the grocery stores,” Robyn told me once. “All of them say ‘Memorial Day Sale!’ I wonder if they will honor any fallen Veterans there? I think not. It’s all a money-making opportunity to them.”
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 because of them.
I will grieve with the families who have lost loved ones on Memorial Day.