When you hold the final roll call for the fallen, your unit stands in formation before a display consisting of an inverted rifle, a helmet mounted atop the buttstock, a set of dogtags hanging from the magazine well and a picture of the person being honored. The fallen’s name is called out three times, only to be met by silence.
Five years ago today, after they were killed by a pressure-plate IED, these names echoed against the walls of a cavernous hangar in Iraq:
Corporal Nelson … Corporal Nelson … Corporal Ricky Nelson …
Lance Corporal Opicka … Lance Corporal Opicka … Lance Corporal Dean Opicka …
They were the kinds of men you wanted your sons to grow up to become. The lives they touched were many. Their funeral services were standing room only, with people traveling from hours away to pay their respects.
Ricky, 23, was always singing and walked around with a smirk perched on his face like the cat that ate the canary. A devout Christian, he could debate about God with no losers – just winners. Ricky loved kids because he was a big one himself. He was killed a few days before his first wedding anniversary.
Dean, 29, had no enemies and was awesome at everything. He didn’t just letter in football and basketball – he had to be the quarterback and point guard. He didn’t just run for student office, he was elected president. Dean later became a teacher – “Mr. Opicka” – and served as a volunteer for mentally disabled adults. His fiancee was a fellow volunteer.
They were among the best people I’ve ever met.