For David Giaimo

I didn’t know David Giaimo, but he entered my life at some point in 2008.

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were raging.  The evening newscasts all ended with lists of the dead. There they were, in silence and black and white.  Page after page of the week’s tally of teenagers and twentysomethings, with the occasional 32-year old master sergeant.

I couldn’t stop thinking about the lists, the names, their ages.   I know 19-year olds.  My now 20-year old daughter knows kids in the service.  Although my cousins had served in the Army and Navy, this felt different to me.  We were kids then, without kids of our own, without the perspective that age brings.  This was a live fire environment.  Every night there was another list, age 19, age 22, age 24. Over and over.

I was too young to really understand Vietnam when it was happening.  I remember watching Huntley and Brinkley and seeing the jungle battles, the Huey helicopters, the stretchers, the protests, the draft card burning and the POWs and the POW bracelets.  My sister had one.  It haunted me. That was a guy in a jungle prison.  It was a lot for a 9-year old to process.

I don’t remember where I first saw the Hero Bracelet, but I think it was in watching news from the last presidential campaign.  Both Senators McCain and Obama had them.  I think one of the candidates, perhaps both, received the one he wore from the mother of a fallen soldier along the campaign trail.

I ordered one, and with it I met First Lieutenant David Giaimo from Waukegan, Illinois. A randomly-selected* name out of several thousand men and women from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.  I looked him up.  There was only a thimble full of information available about him.  Two-time state champion marksman, varsity baseball player, good friend, loving son, Army volunteer.  He died when his Humvee hit an IED in Tikrit, Iraq on August 12, 2005.  He was 24.

Volunteer.

He walked into the fire.

I wore the bracelet often and got many questions about it. I know at least a few of the people who asked thought it was a silly gesture.  I know my telling what I knew of David’s story made some people uncomfortable, for keeping the war and the death as far out of their lives as possible was their primary goal.  Not in front of the children.  I was proud to spread the gospel of David’s service and what those like him did to others.  We must not forget what they had done and are doing on our behalf.

I wore the bracelet for quite a while, and then put it away.  The end of 2008 marked a change in my life—a beginning of what turned out to be sixteen months of unemployment —so wearing it while trying to get a job seemed somehow imprudent.   I wasn’t embarrassed by it, but first things first.  I didn’t want to give anyone an(other) excuse to not hire me, for I give plenty of those on my own.  Here I was, an unemployed banker with 25 years behind him in the worst financial and economic crisis the country had faced in 70 years, searching for meaning and a way to feed and educate three kids.

Though at times daunting, my wife and I were constantly aware that what we were living through seemed small relative what others were facing:  the struggles of a little girl with inoperable brain cancer with not much time left and a twin sister and family trying to deal with it; the impending loss of a home; people carrying burdens of unfathomable weight; David, his family and families like his.  There was plenty of suffering to go around.  I was just out of a job.

I’ve been working now for about four months. It’s not as good as it could be, but it’s better than staying home.  A couple of weeks ago, I happened by the television as Jim Lehrer was saying, “…and now, in silence, the names of the dead as released by the Pentagon.”  There it was again. Another list.  Age 19.  Age 22.  Age 24.  Even though I hadn’t been watching, the lists had never stopped.

The memory of David and his sacrifice returned to me.  It shook me that I had pushed his memory aside, for I never meant for that to happen.  I haven’t stopped thinking about him since.

Volunteer.

He ran into the fire.

Lincoln said it best, “It is…for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain.”

The loss of David and all like him is only in vain if we forget.  On this the fifth anniversary of that fateful day, I remember.  However clumsy this is, it is my tribute to him.  I am grateful for his service.  I’m sorry for his loss.

*        A review of the website doesn’t show the ability to get a random bracelet for a soldier.  Since I bought mine, they’ve put a searchable database of the fallen from Iraq and Afghanistan, so you can pick an individual.

8 Responses to For David Giaimo

  1. Fonda Rosenfeldt says:

    I didn’t know about these bracelets. David Giaimo was my cousin – he was a great young man and his family was very, very proud of him.

  2. Rebecca says:

    I’m David’s sister and we miss him everyday… There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think about him. My brother Jim and I will never feel complete again, though it is comforting that people keep him in there thoughts and prayers. We miss you David.

    • Les Deffner says:

      Rebecca, I never met David, nor knew your family. But four years ago when I moved to and bought a house in Waukegan, I sought to honor a local hero on Memorial Day. I came across David’s name. Since 2012 every year after I leave the Memorial Day Parade in Waukegan, I put up his picture at J’s Ballymuck, and then visit him at Fort Sheridan. Of the dozens of friends and family members I have who returned from the wars, I feel grateful to have them still. Please know, that I have found myself feeling great empathy and loss for your family. My heart breaks each year, and I too mourn and tears fall.

      Today, the tenth anniversary of his death, I find it painful too. I cannot imagine how it must be for your family.

      Please know that outside of your family, there are others who honor David, will never forget him, and share your family’s pain.

  3. Les says:

    Thank you for your blog. About a week ago I got the idea of finding out a name, any name, of a fallen hero from teh town I live in. David’s name came up. Since then I’ve been reading evertyhing I can about him. Your blog entry was beautiful. David’s life and sacrifice was spectacular. My heart swells with pride and breaks in two thinking of him.

  4. Adriane Ebner says:

    I am David’s cousin, my daughter just brought this blog to my attention. She is 12 years old and although her memory of him is vague she speaks of him often. She was on the computer today reading about him, and she takes quite an interest in his life and sacrifice. I spent more time playing with David as a child and as the years went on as with many of my family and cousins, I saw less and less of them. I am truly touched that a complete stranger would go out of his way to learn about a fallen soldier as well as share his story in remembrance. This was beautiful!!! I have seen my family’s suffering and emptiness the loss of a son, brother, nephew, cousin and grandchild. Thank you sir for taking the time in your life to honor appreciate my cousin.
    Adriane Ebner and Leah Ebner

    • Mark Wegener says:

      Thank you for your kind words. I remain humbled by the sacrifice of David and those many like him.

  5. Les says:

    Adriane, for what it’s worth, this recently past Memorial Day (2013) was the second year I attended the Memorial Day Ceremony in downtown Waukegan to represent David. Like the blog’s author (thank you Mark!), I too am compelled to keep David’s flame lit.

    This year, after the ceremony, I made two stops:

    The first was to buy a pint of beer at J’s Bally Muck in Waukegan, a small local pub. The owner is a guy named Jeremiah who played with David in high school. Jeremiah agreed to allow me to place with the pint of beer a photo of him and a small 3×5 card with David’s name, rank, and dates of birth and passing at the place in front of a bar stool. The idea is a token of remembrance for Waukegan’s fallen hero. My hope was that people would see it, and be reminded that David was one of them, and that spot was reserved for his memory. I hope others who knew him would see it and honor him, and talk of him.

    My second stop was to his gravesite. This year my wife finally agreed to go. She is not given towards sentimentality, but this time she was deeply moved. I think she finally understood why doing this was important to me.

    In 2003 my dearest cousin Danielle died just after Memorial Day due to pregnancy complications. She left behind an active duty Army husband, and two small children. The baby she carried could not be saved. I was a pallbearer at her military funeral. Myself, I am a third generation Navy man. She, like both of her older brothers, also served in the Navy. Her father, and one of our uncle’s were Marines.

    As you can tell, the my love, loyalty, and respect for military families runs deep. Between thinking of my beloved cousin Danielle each Memorial Day, and my family’s own grief, I get a bit emotionally raw at that time of year. Add to that, I often catch myself thinking about your family. It is easy for me think about how Rebecca and Jim may have felt upon hearing of David’s passing. Each year I think about it, and it fills me with sorrow and tears. For your family I grieve.

    Adriane, I am sorry for your loss. I can only hope my efforts can bring you a small measure of comfort.

    To Mark Wegener: thank you again for this blog.

  6. Les says:

    Mark, I never knew about Hero Bracelets until I read your blog. I now have two: one for David, and one for a guy I served with (Navy) who was later killed on 9/11 at the Pentagon. I wear each of them often.

    Hard to believe today marks 10 years David is gone. Local to where he grew up, I’ve met a few of those he grew up with. He was exactly the man you’d have thought him to be. I wish I could have known him.

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