A young man's strange, erotic journey from Milan to Minsk...and apparently, back again.

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Location: Denver, Colorado, United States

The details of my life are quite inconsequential, really. Summers in Rangoon...luge lessons...

Wednesday, December 08, 2010


Right up front, I'll tell you that I debated this one intensely with myself.  How could I write about farcical could it be to describe my state over something that didn't happen here, when warriors in this country lose friends, brothers, comrades-in-arms every week?  Well, Vince wasn't that last one.  But he was a comrade-in-soul.  And losing him bears a great deal of relevance to something personal, as this blog has turned out to sometimes be.  It would be dishonest in a way to not pay some sort of brief, surely inadequate tribute.  And besides that, I doubt I'll ever put together those long-delayed recaps of last month's excursions west and north until I do so.

My friend Vince has passed away, and I can't so much as make the trip home to say goodbye the way I'd like to.  Vince was so much more than my buddy of countless concerts, Giants games, ski trips and occasions of just grabbing a needed beer in a nondescript Irish pub...we had a hell of a lot in common, and a lot of deep conversations about life.  Vince had the sweetest nature of just about anyone I've ever had the pleasure to know, and between that and his off-the-wall sense of humor, he was simply someone who always made everyone around him feel better.  God, I hope he felt at least some of that love in return.

What does this have to do with the experience of spending a heavy stretch of time deployed?  For one thing, there's the universal feeling of loss...that shitty, gnawing feeling of a gaping hole in your gut where something used to be.  I haven't experienced the shock of losing someone alongside me in combat.  Hell, the only combat I even experienced lasted for probably just a few minutes.  So I fully understand your snickering if you're a hardened veteran of countless firefights who's listening to a desk jockey in Kabul moan about his friend back in New York.

What I do know is what it feels like to receive a bewildering, disorienting note informing you that one of your greatest friends is alive no frantically call your parents in the urge to know something, make the futile stab at trying to understand a "why" when you don't know jack yet.  I know how low you can sink when you realize you'd have been home if you didn't extend, somewhere in the States, maybe even in the right place at the right time to somehow alter the course of the most tragic circumstance imaginable.  If you think that feeling is easier to shake because I'm half a world away, you're absolutely wrong.

"In my life, things have a way of growing downward...
So I don't know...if I can watch myself be a coward...
Again."  (Warren Haynes, 'In My Life')

Vince was one of those friends I was most looking forward to seeing after I got back from seems like only yesterday we treated me like a damn king in New York when I returned four years ago: "Deuce, you're the King!" he'd literally and enthusiastically say over and over.  It was going to be a challenging December anyway, but one in which the intense workload of finishing a long tour strong and completely turning over three jobs at once was going to largely keep my mind off the holidays.  Now it seems like an abyss, as New Year's Eve looms -- too many memories of this time of year spent in the joyous company of Vinsanity.  I can only imagine how difficult the season will be for his family.

That's not the whole story of this past week...I've received an outpouring of thoughtful sentiment from some unexpected places; I've discovered that I can still work exhaustive hours through sometimes crippling grief; and I've had my spirits buoyed countless times by family and friends who made me laugh, or took my mind off the sadness, or helped me see the least for a moment.  Of course the bizarro live theater that is this place doesn't stop, or even slow down.  But now I'll emerge from a block of work briefly believing that my friend is just fine...only to have to process again what has happened.

I've never had a friend quite like Vince -- in all his random nicknaming of everyone, his sheer joy in each good time, and his incredible compassion for others -- and even the tons of memories from those good times don't do much to plug the emptiness.  He suffered more than I knew; more than anyone knew.  But that's not what I'll think on.  My hope in the darkness is that he's smiling...and that his pain is eased.

"Hold on to me if you need to...I know the river's deep and wide. 
Trust in me, I'll see you through...and I'll be there, on the other side." 
(Gov't Mule, 'Frozen Fear')


Blogger Debbie of Boise said...

You have every right to grieve and I am sorry for your loss. Thank you for your post. It make us here in the States aware of yet another sacrifice our men and women serving in harms way make; not being able to properly grieve to loss of friends or loved ones back home. Thank you for your service and this blog. Be strong. Grieve as you are able. Be safe. God bless you, those you serve and those you serve with.

December 9, 2010 at 7:52 AM  
Blogger FrenchFried said...

Dear AfghaniDan,
There are no words strong enough, sensitive enough, or tactful enough to express my deep sympathy for the loss of your friend Vince.
All I can say is that any loss of a loved one, whatever the circumstances of that tragedy, cannot be compared. The load of grief, guilt, anger, feeling of emptiness is always heavy on your shoulders.
Please, accept from a complete stranger, my sincere thoughts for your friend and for yourself.
And if I may, I hope Vince is having a nice cool beer with the Big Boss right now.
Stay strong.
A bientôt.

December 9, 2010 at 9:10 AM  
Anonymous Leigh said...

I am very sorry for your loss. True friends are hard to come by, and losing one that is true is heartbreaking.

December 10, 2010 at 11:17 AM  
Anonymous Leigh said...


As we won't be able to get those letters out in time...Here is a greeting from one of my 2nd grade classes. Get home safely. Thank you for all that you do to keep us safe,

Mrs. Scherer's & Mrs. Gillespie's
2nd Graders

December 10, 2010 at 12:03 PM  
Anonymous PJH said...

So well put, bro ... I lingered on every word. BTW, M&D came by today enroute from CT (Dad's company party last night) to NJ, and I took the oppty to show them the entire "My Pal Vince" album you had posted on FB ... they really enjoyed that.

And if I may, one more Warren quote, for VG:
There's no need to suffer anymore ... and we'll fly away ... look down at the earth below ... fly away ... and never look back ... never look back.

December 11, 2010 at 6:51 PM  
Blogger Major Dan said...

Thank you, all of you. It's given me untold strength to hear supportive words from so many kindhearted people, none more so than you all!

Leigh- Please give a shout back to the class for me. Tell them how lucky they are to have such a wonderful teacher.

PJH- Thank you for showing them. 'No Need to Suffer' has been on my ipod and in my head a whole lot lately.

December 12, 2010 at 2:04 PM  

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