Written May 9, 2012     

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© 2016 Bob Lonsberry


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This morning early I first read the names David Rylander and Junot Cochilus.

The first was 23, the second was 34.

And both were dead.

Killed in Afghanistan a week ago today by a hidden bomb.

They were Fort Drum soldiers, in that they had been briefly assigned there on their way to the war, and were therefore New York soldiers, stationed on the edge of the state, in the deep woods.

But now they are gone, and when I should have been doing other things I sat there with the rising sun, following leads and links, trying to learn about these men and their lives.

As I did so, I wore a t-shirt honoring a fallen Marine from where I grew up, a young man whose grandfather was best friends with my uncle, and whose father I visited with just yesterday. As I did so, I knew that my own daughter, a soldier in the Army, was sitting CQ duty on the other side of the country, keeping watch over sleeping comrades.

As I did so, I tried to grasp the reality of just these two. Of David Rylander and Junot Cochilus.

Junot, the enlisted man, was married, and the Army said he had a child. He had been in a couple of years, and was from Charlotte, North Carolina, but beyond a spattering of Facebook friends with foreign names, and a My Space picture of him speaking at a lectern, there is nothing. His full name was Junot Mevs Legrand Cochilus, and he signed up in French for an online Haitian forum.

But I found nothing of his family, no quotes from friends or coaches, no name for his wife, no gender for his child. Virtually nothing beyond the small blurb published in papers across the country.

Thus far, he has passed in anonymity.

Unlike his platoon leader.

David Rylander was from a suburb of Akron, in the Western Reserve. He was an Eagle Scout there, and was home schooled, and had been saved since he was a little boy.

“Freedom is never free,” his mother told the local paper.

“We should never take that for granted,” his father added.

They spoke of their faith in an eternity together, but of their pain in a lifetime apart.

A year ago, David sat with his fellow members of the West Point Class of 2011 as the First Lady and then the chairman of the Joint Chiefs counseled and congratulated. There were diplomas and cheers and hats thrown into the air.

“For freedom we fight” was the class motto. They had it engraved on the side of the heavy rings they wore. There were more than a thousand members of the class, and David is the first to die.

“He was a great cadet and a great follower of God,” his class president told reporters. “He was a great officer.”

He liked to watch “House,” he was in the Protestant Chapel Choir at the Military Academy, and almost all the pictures he posted on Facebook were of his friends. Sweet, happy, smiling people, their goodness evident in their faces. He played piano, liked to swim, had earned his jump wings, and his favorite Bible verse was, “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.”

His brother Daniel is 19, his sister Sarah is 16, and Stephen, another sibling with a Bible name, is 15.

And he is dead.

A young lieutenant who fell beside a young specialist, with two more wounded and a country looking on, half frantic and half inured, unsure of the why or the where.

That’s what I did this morning, when I should have been working. I sat reaching through cyberspace for some connection to two men gone, one an apparent paragon of the heartland, the other a seeming newly arrived son, two Americans on one mission, under one banner, in the service of the cause of liberty. Reaching, to grab and hold back, in the futility of mortality.

This morning early I first read the names David Rylander and Junot Cochilus.

The first was 23, the second was 34.

And both were dead.

Killed in Afghanistan a week ago today by a hidden bomb.

- by Bob Lonsberry © 2012

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