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Death of a Friend

April 1, 2012

(A post from the archives)

 

I learned this week that a friend of mine from college died. He was an F-15E pilot deployed overseas. His name was Dee Imlay.

I've been pretty affected by this loss. All week, in times of quiet or meditation, my thoughts would wander to Dee, and I would start to cry. I've been a little confused or surprised by these feelings - I'm not really sure what my overall reaction has been. All of my emotions have been more unsettled than usual. To sort through it all, I decided to just write it all down.

It's not like Dee and I were very close; I hadn't talked to him since we graduated. Almost 8 years - I can't believe it's been that long. I have still felt very sad this week at his death, like we just saw each other yesterday. To me, Dee was my friend once, so he is still my friend. Lord only knows I haven't had many friends in my life, true friends. I will always consider Dee one of them, though. I don't know if I'm different from others, but people always remain in my mind just as I last saw them, good or bad; kind of like a human time capsule. In my mind, Dee is still just like the last time I saw him even though he's had children, become a pilot, and experienced 8 years of life since. But, to me, he was my friend then and still is. I have felt his loss very deeply, but I know it's nothing compared to his wife and family. I am going to miss him for a long time, but I'm even more preoccupied with thoughts of his family. I can't imagine what his wife is going through, and his two young children will grow up without knowing their father. War is fucked up, man. I wish we lived in a world without the need of a military, but I am so thankful for those that are still out there fighting the unpopular fights.

One of my other friends from college posted the poem Around the Corner by Hanson Towne. I think it really summed up my feelings. It's human nature to save these memories of friends and to let time get away from us. Life is just a string of events that take us further from memories of other events. Before we know it, we are further than we ever thought we would be; that's life.

I hadn't kept in touch with Dee after college, but we were Facebook friends. Even though he wasn't the greatest poster, his wife kept us all updated on their family. That was how I found out about his death. It has really brought back many memories of ROTC and college, many of which I had intentionally put in boxes and let dust settle on. 

There were very few people I actually liked in ROTC and even fewer that I regularly thought of after graduation. Dee was one of those few. Going through all my old photos brought back a lot of those memories. Unfortunately, college was before I started taking pictures of everything, so I only had a scant few of Dee. But, my memories haven't faded.

Dee was a software engineering major, and I was computer science, so we had a few classes together in my junior and senior year. He was much better at it than I was. One class in particular was Algorithms. It was one of those classes that shredded students, and I was no exception. Dee, though, was great at it. There were many occasions where I studied in his apartment into the early morning. After I would have given up hope and started working a backup plan, Dee would draw me back in and help me finish the homework or project. I honestly couldn't have survived Algorithms without his help. We also had an Artificial Intelligence (AI) class together with a professor who was also a Christian preacher. During his lectures, Dee and I would laugh as he would espouse God's power and the impossibility of AI at the same time as he was teaching us how to program it.

Dee gave me perspective about ROTC too. When I would get weighed down by all of it, he would point out that it's all just bullshit and make me rise above it; he taught me not to take all the little stuff so seriously. ROTC was just a means to an end, and he never let me forget that. 

Dee was a highly decorated cadet. I think he won every possible award when we graduated and was one of the few cadets in the nation selected for a special pilot training assignment. He never let it go to his head, though. Dee wasn't like other pilot candidates. He was confident, of course, but not in the wildly overbearing way most are. He was quiet, lighthearted, smart, and he got right to the point with no bullshit. Dee didn't usually take part in our drunken college antics, but he was no stick in the mud; he was more like a voice of moderation, if not reason, when we needed it.

My most vivid memory of Dee was late one night near graduation. We both had our assignments; I was off to Okinawa as a Communications Officer, and he was going to wait around a bit before he started pilot training. I was pretty nervous about starting a new job and all of its responsibility and especially nervous about moving overseas by myself. Dee was as cool as ever. He was so jazzed on my behalf about my assignment. We stood on his porch for hours talking about it. Mostly, he told me over and over how awesome it was going to be, how many Japanese babes I was going to reel in, and how dark my tan would be when I got back. He never mentioned how nervous he was, but I know he was; he was about to get married and start his ultra-prestigious pilot training. I would have been scared like hell and probably buckled under all that pressure. Not Dee. He faced it with the same quiet confidence that he faced everything in life.

When I found out about his death, I was shocked to see the lack of media coverage. It wasn't until a day or two later that even his name was released, and I never saw it on any national-level news source. It was only picked up by the local news, his base and the Air Force website. I felt that everyone should know about his death and who he was; he deserved that. I wanted Diane Sawyer to break into regular programming to tell the nation about this man we lost. 

That might be my own mortality speaking; I don't want to be forgotten. I want my own death to be national news. But that's just my own hubris. For Dee, he really deserved that attention because he was a good guy. He was someone I knew. I don't think his death should be quiet news, just another death in this war. I'm sure every family of a service member killed feels the same way. Dee deserves to be a household name, someone people weep over. His loss is a profound one for all of us. The out-poring of support and emotion on Facebook has really shown how tightly knit the small Air Force & military family really is.

I wish we didn't live in a world where the military is necessary, but we do. I am in awe of those that take on the burden of service. I am deeply saddened by Dee's death, but I'm glad he was out there. His shoulders were broad enough to support all our hopes and fears. I felt safe with him fighting for me.
 

This body is not me; I am not caught in this body,
I am life without boundaries,
I have never been born and I have never died.
Over there the wide ocean and the sky with many galaxies
All manifests from the basis of consciousness.
Since beginningless time I have always been free.
Birth and death are only a door through which we go in and out.
Birth and death are only a game of hide-and-seek.
So smile to me and take my hand and wave good-bye.
Tomorrow we shall meet again or even before.
We shall always be meeting again at the true source,
Always meeting again on the myriad paths of life.
(no death, no fear - Thich Nhat Hanh)

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