WE REMEMBER: Two local veterans explain what Memorial Day means to them

The Lynchburg American Legion will host a Memorial Day Service on the north side of the square on Monday at 11a.m. (Lynchburg Times Photo)

The thing that sticks with local veteran Arthur Barad about the meaning of Memorial Day is a pair of flip flops.

During one of his overseas deployments, the USO sent his base a large shipment of various and sundry supplies. The ever-industrious local deputy took it upon himself to organize and distribute them to his fellow soldiers and one of those soldiers, Master Sergeant Tara Brown, needed a pair of shower flip flops.

“She’d been asking me for weeks but every time we talked, I was already busy doing something. It would have taken me all of 10 seconds to run downstairs and get them for her but I didn’t. When I learned she was gone, all I could think about were those flip flops.”

Arthur says to this day, the sight of a pair of flip flops makes him think of not only Brown but also how quickly life can change. He’s also created what his kids have come to know as the 10 Seconds Rule.

“It happens randomly but I’ll look at one of my kids and say 10 seconds,” he explains. “That means no matter what we’re doing, we stop and give each other a 10 second hug. Tara’s legacy in my life is that I always make time now.”

For many who do not come from military families, Memorial Day exists as the first long weekend of summer filled with barbecues, days on the lake, big retail sales, and celebrations but to families who paid the ultimate price, the day exists as a somber reminder of the ones who can not be here for any of it.

Unlike Veteran’s Day, Armed Forces Day, and even Independence Day that focus the spotlight on those who currently serve or who have served in the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines. Memorial Day exists not as a day to say “thank you for your service” to those still with us but rather a moment to honor any soldier who died in an American war.

And no understands the love and loss of the day like a soldier who made it out alive.

On Sunday, The Times caught up with two local veterans — Air Force veteran and Moore County Sheriff’s Department Deputy Arthur Barad and Army veteran and Jack Daniel employee Jason Bobo — to get their perspective. Between them, they have seven total deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan and the shared perspective of what it’s like to lose someone on the battlefield. They met while doing a local podcast, The Big Ben Show, and have remained close ever since.

Both say that they accept every “thank you for your service” during the Memorial Day weekend on behalf of their fallen brothers and sisters.

“You can’t actively thank the dead,” explains Jason. “People want to say something but they don’t really know what to say or what to do. I take it as their way of showing their respect.”

“You kind of take that thank you for your friends,” Arthur adds. “There’s a bit of survivor’s guilt that comes when you make it back home. I think we all carry it to some degree. You hear the thank you and inside you know who that goes to.”

Both say that they’ve lost multiple people — people they served with, people they considered brothers and sisters, people they cared about — during their time at war. It’s what they signed up for and yet they say there’s no way to prepare for it when it happens.

“At first you kind of go numb and then you feel guilty and angry all at once,” explains Jason. “It’s not until you get time by yourself that the sadness hits.”

Arthur says that during a deployment most soldiers become super close, super quick in a way that doesn’t happen in civilian life.

“We live together. We eat together. You make goofy faces as they talk to their families on Skype. You develop inside jokes. You know so much about these people in such a short amount of time,” says Arthur. “If anything goes down, you’re together. So when somebody is gone, it’s surreal and you grieve.”

“When you are deployed, you feel like the people around you are your brother and sisters,” Jason adds. “If something happens while we’re on deployment, I’m going to go through hell to get to you, so you can come home.”

Both say during a deployment soldiers need to do what they need to do to keep moving forward and that often means compartmentalizing that grief for the time being but it never truly goes away. Even if they put it inside a mental box and put that box on a shelf, it often pops up when they least expect it.

“It can hit you when you are looking at old pictures or just driving down the road,” Jason says.

“Sometimes it’s just hearing a certain song or watching a movie,” Arthur added.

They also both say that they try to never to burden their families with the worst parts of their war experience. When they do talk about it with the people they love, they only tell funny stories.

“Jason and I can joke with each other about being shot at but I’d never joke with you about being shot at,” Arthur says. “For civilians who have never been through it, it just wouldn’t make sense.”

They say that military life changes you forever in ways you don’t expect. For example, in Iraq and Afghanistan personal vehicles are rare and often weighed down with half a dozen family members, so to see a vehicle with a single driver is a red flag.

“In developing countries, you’ll have family members, neighbors, a goat, all packed into one car,” jokes Arthur. “When you see one driver, you think it’s a bomb. You have to think it’s a bomb.”

“I once saw five people stacked on a 250 cc motorcycle,” adds Jason. “When you see one person in a car, your spidey sense goes off.”

Even today, both Arthur and Jason notice a single passenger vehicle approaching even though they are everywhere.

Both say they come from military families with father’s and grandfathers who served and inspired them to join the military. Jason’s father, Bill Bobo, brother, Shayne Bobo, and maternal grandfather Lillard Sons all served. Arthur’s dad and grandfather also both served and he grew up as an “Army brat” who lived on military bases around the world.

“My dad didn’t talk about fighting,” Arthur says. “He talked about seeing the world.”

Both Arthur and Jason say if any of their kids wanted to sign up for military service they’d be both proud and scared.

“It makes me feel multiple feelings at once,” Jason says. “I’d be proud that they want to serve but also sacred beyond belief. I experienced that danger first hand. It’s hard to think about your kids facing that same danger.”

As Memorial Day approaches, both Arthur and Jason say another local family, the Awalts, sit heavy on their hearts. On April 4, 1991, local Russell “Rusty” Awalt died while serving as a helicopter pilot in Iraq. Both become emotional when talking about him.

“I remember when he died,” Jason says. “I was 12 years old. This one red light town shut down to honor and grieve him together. School let out, so we could all watch his funeral procession go down Majors Boulevard. That made a huge impact on me.”

Rusty’s brother, Mike Awalt, participates yearly in Lynchburg’s Memorial Day Service, which happens on Monday at 11 a.m. on the historic Lynchburg Square.

Arthur says the service gives him a lot of personal pride.

“Just to know you live in a community that shows their support like that is huge,” Arthur says. “I serve this community and I love those people.”

“It gives me a lot of pride in the community I grew up in,” says Jason. “There will be over 100 people there and they’ll shut down traffic on the square. Our little town makes it a big deal.” •

The Lynchburg Times is the only locally-owned newspaper in Lynchburg and also the only woman-owned newspaper in Tennessee. We cover Metro Moore County government, Jack Daniel’s Distillery, Nearest Green Distillery, Tims Ford State Park, Motlow State Community College, Moore County High School, Moore County Middle School, Lynchburg Elementary, Raider Sports, plus regional and state news.}