To say goodbye

On this Memorial Day, Compass is sharing a reflection by Lt. Marian Orahood, a Coast Guard officer and Gold Star family member. Below are her thoughts on what it means to truly remember those who have made the ultimate sacrifice in service to their country.

Army Spc. Daniel E. Gomez, 21, of Warner Robins, Ga.; assigned to the 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, Schweinfurt, Germany; died July 18 in Adhamiyah, Iraq, of wounds sustained when his vehicle was attacked by enemy forces using an improvised explosive device and small-arms fire.  Photo courtesy of Lt. Marian Orahood.

Army Spc. Daniel E. Gomez, 21, of Warner Robins, Ga.; assigned to the 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, Schweinfurt, Germany; died July 18 in Adhamiyah, Iraq, of wounds sustained when his vehicle was attacked by enemy forces using an improvised explosive device and small-arms fire. Photo courtesy of Lt. Marian Orahood.

I wanted to write this so that the reader would understand the thoughts of a Gold Star family member. What goes through our heads? How do we really feel about Memorial Day?

Every day is Memorial Day to us. Sitting at a red light – the scene of getting notified flashes before my eyes. Driving down a winding road – the military funeral plays once again in my mind. Looking into my little girl’s eyes, and seeing his face, what did he feel when he died. Seeing my parents, and remembering the anguish on their faces when he was lowered into the ground. It’s not over, and it never will be.

The remains of Army Spc. Daniel E. Gomez are carried during a dignified transfer. Photo courtesy of Lt. Marian Orahood.

The remains of Army Spc. Daniel E. Gomez are carried during a dignified transfer. Photo courtesy of Lt. Marian Orahood.

These images are constantly reeling – when I’m happy, and when I’m sad – and I want you to see them too. Let me paint you a picture of those scenes as they replay for me.

My big brother, Spc. Daniel E. Gomez, was deployed with the 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division at Adhamiyah, Iraq, as a combat medic. He had recently been on his two weeks of R&R after a year there, and had about six months left to go. I had the pleasure of spending time with him before I was shipped to basic training. He even got to drive me down to Jacksonville to see me off and wish me good luck! Two days later, he had to go back to finish his tour. What perfect timing it was that I got to see him before I went to basic.

During the weeks in basic, we wrote letters to each other. I received a letter from him describing how our friend who he was stationed with had been hit by a rocket and lost his leg completely. During that situation, our friend died twice but a medic was able to revive him. Daniel said things were getting worse every day. He feared for his life, but at the same time looked forward to life after that deployment. He was going to propose to my best friend, to whom I introduced him. We were all going to go to Germany, where he was going to get on one knee, and I was going to get to be there to witness it all.

Week seven of basic came around and I had a sick feeling. I even told my shipmates that I felt I should have been happy that we were graduating, but I couldn’t explain or shake the feeling I had in the pit of my stomach. I had some clues that I didn’t put together until years later. I was performing with the Color Guard at the graduation of the class a week before ours. Immediately after that performance, my platoon commander rushed me away. I didn’t even have time to put away my rifle. I thought, “What is going on?” As we walked, my platoon commander said to me something along the lines of me making a great officer and that I worked really hard. I didn’t understand him because this is the man who was so tough on us weeks before.

But we continued to walk. We walked until we came into a building. Once he opened the door, I was greeted by what seemed like everyone on the base. Every company commander, every officer, even the Recruit Training Center commanding officer and the chaplain were there, awaiting my arrival. They led me into a room. I saw my dad there, dressed in black with a black handkerchief wrapped around his hand. He was looking down. I was confused; they weren’t supposed to be here for another week for my graduation. He looked up at me, and he was crying. I said, “Daniel?” and he shook his head, yes.

Lt. Marian Orahood and her family during Army Spc. Daniel E. Gomez’s funeral. Photo courtesy of Lt. Marian Orahood.

Lt. Marian Orahood and her family during Army Spc. Daniel E. Gomez’s funeral. Photo courtesy of Lt. Marian Orahood.

Dammit. Dammit Dammit Dammit. I fell to the ground. I cried over a chair on the floor for who knows how long, and everyone watched. I didn’t care that I had my trops on, I cried into them. When I finally was able to stand on my own legs, I was escorted to my barracks to get my things to fly back home to my family. Once I got into my barracks, I saw my shipmates and we embraced and cried. I saw the empathy in their faces. They had been able to break open the lock in my bunk, and had packed my things for me. We were driven to the airport that evening by my company commander. Once we got to the airport, we still had more waiting to do, so we tried to eat something, but couldn’t. I didn’t have an appetite, so I people watched.

I watched all the families with their small children and remembered the good times I had with my big brother. We were best friends and confidants… he was my role model. I watched soldiers waiting in the terminal, I watched people rushing to get to their gate. It was amazing to see how others’ lives go on while our family was in the worst time of our lives. On the plane, I cried more, this time uncontrollably. People were whispering, excuses were being made for me, people were watching me again.

When we landed in Atlanta, my mom was waiting for us. She ran to hug me. She hadn’t seen me in seven weeks, and her son had been killed. Her grief was tangible as she melted into my arms. I don’t want to ever see her unhappy like that again.

While my brother’s body was being identified and prepared in Dover, we scrambled to make arrangements for the funeral, viewings and vigils. We were handling phone calls from media and reporters from all over the states. On the day of the funeral, the Patriot Guard arrived to set up the escort. It was about a 40-minute drive from the funeral home to Fort Sam National Cemetery in San Antonio, Texas. On the way, we drove through our small hometown where we grew up. Many people were lined up holding supportive signs. What a sight to see, all these families, churches and other groups who showed up to show their support of our troops—of my brother.

The last scene that plays over in my head was when my brother’s casket was lowered into his freshly dug grave. Only immediate family members were allowed to view this part. I will never forget the heartbreak I felt of my mom’s reaction to seeing her firstborn being lowered into the ground. It truly was painful and heart-wrenching. I wanted to jump into the grave too and just give him one last hug.

Your whole world is crushed in that very moment. It’s when you have to say goodbye.

During this time, was when I realized how great a service the Coast Guard really was. They ensured my family had grief services available to us and arranged transportation for my family to get home from Cape May. My mother even told me, after having lost her son, that she knew the Coast Guard would take care of me during my time in, and they did. I am very grateful for this wonderful network of professionals and caring individuals.

Army Spc. Daniel E. Gomez, 21, of Warner Robins, Ga.; assigned to the 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, Schweinfurt, Germany; died July 18 in Adhamiyah, Iraq, of wounds sustained when his vehicle was attacked by enemy forces using an improvised explosive device and small-arms fire. Also killed were Sgt. 1st Class Luis E. Gutierrez-Rosales, Spc. Zachary R. Clouser, Spc. Richard Gilmore III.”

The grave of Army Spc. Daniel E. Gomez. Photo courtesy of Lt. Marian Orahood.

The grave of Army Spc. Daniel E. Gomez. Photo courtesy of Lt. Marian Orahood.

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