Now, commentator John Owen is a Navy chaplain. And for him, any day can become Memorial Day.

Lieutenant Commander JOHN OWEN (Chaplain, U.S. Naval Academy): There's only one thing that the appearance of a Naval officer and a chaplain can mean in the dark of night. Not long ago, I had to make that nighttime trip bearing the news that would change a family's life forever. Their son, a 21-year-old Navy corpsman, had been killed in a helicopter crash outside Baghdad.

As soon as his father saw us walking up the drive, he knew and his world collapsed around him. To unleash that kind of anguish on a mother and a father and two younger brothers was all but unbearable. I hate being the angel of death.

In the days that followed I helped accompany this family on their first few steps down a road of grief and anguish, a road I can only pray that I myself will never have to walk. Two weeks later, there was a memorial service at the local funeral home. Afterwards, our little motorcade pulled on to the main street of the family's small town. Along every block, people stood on sidewalks and in their front yards. I don't know how they knew we were coming, but there they were.

At intersections, traffic stood still; police officers saluted. When we turned up the driveway to the VFW hall it was lined with people. There were farmers, children, bikers in leather riding gear, high school students each holding a small American flag. Soldiers and sailors and Marines stood at attention, saluting as we drove by. They had all gathered to pay their respects to one of the best America has to offer.

I watched the family at the reception as they shared stories and memories, smiling and sobbing, giving and receiving hugs continuously. I couldn't imagine what they were feeling.

Leaving the reception, I was momentarily stunned. Inside the hall, a family's lives had been turned upside down. Outside, the world moved along as if nothing had happened, but I knew it had and I felt more acutely than ever how indebted we all are to the small circle of families who have sacrificed so much on our behalf.

INSKEEP: Lt. Cmdr. John Owen is a chaplain at the U.S. Naval Academy.

(Soundbite of song "Amazing Grace")


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