The afternoon of CPL Watkins memorial service was framed by a gunmetal sky. As soldiers gathered in tight knots of grief the pregnant clouds rolled overhead, pushed along by unsteady gusts of wind. The memorial took place on the FOB basketball court, a utilitarian patch of concrete on the edge of a field surrounded by dust and dried mud. The centerpoint was a simple memorial built on a neat stack of sandbags lying in the center of the court. The memorial included CPL Watkins weapon with bayonet, his Kevlar helmet, his boots, and his dog tags, all flanked by two framed pictures of better and brighter days. To the right of the memorial the American flag and our Battalion colors flapped slowly in the breeze. To the left of the memorial sat CPL Watkins commanders, from squad leader to Battalion Commander, all there to pay their respects.
In the minutes leading up to the memorial approached soldiers formed into tight formations and then on command filed into the bleachers and folding seats with oil slick precision. During the memorial CPL Watkins commanders and best friends provided a glimpse into just how great a man we had lost. For those who knew him it was a reminder of how much he had brought to their lives. For those who didn’t know him it was an insight into a man of courage whose humor and warmth lessened the pain of being so far from home.
The best words I could craft pale in light of the powerful words our Battalion Commander used in summing up CPL Watkins. I will leave with an excerpt of LTC Tomahawk’s eulogy:
In the words of his creed I welcome you to this honoring of the life and service of Glenn Watkins. Corporal of Infantry. Late of 1st Squad, 3rd Platoon, A Company, 1-184 Infantry Air Assault. Lahaim in Hebrew means to life and this indeed is a fitting welcome. Life, if you know how to use it is long enough. If you do not no amount of time will suffice to make your mortal passage worthy of the glory all real men seek. Glenn Watkins’ life was long enough. He was a father who raised four children to honorable adulthood. The proof of this is how they are using their lives. AAA and JJJ his oldest are currently under arms for this great nation. AAA in the 82nd Airborne Division. JJJ enlisted in the US Navy. LLL his middle child is a new recruit in the Israeli Civil Defense Forces. JJJ his youngest will soon finish high school. Armed with the best examples in life that American culture has to offer. He was a quiet man, but we remember him for his humor. He was Jewish but he loved Christian rock and roll. He was a soldier, but he was no warmonger. He was lowly in rank, but his leadership, bearing, and sacrifice serve as the perfect model for every soldier here gathered today. Glenn lived long enough to do all of this and more. He requited his duties as a man of God, a father, a friend, a leader, a soldier with shining honor. He accomplished his purpose. We loved him. We will always, always honor the life he shared with us and try to emulate it. Because yes, we miss him, because he made us better. Like a beacon. We will use his life to help us navigate through our own.