I received a phone call from my sister this morning. She lives in the town of Huntington on Long Island. This familial contact didn’t involve an invitation to a Memorial Day barbecue, a discussion of the humid weather, or anything so trivial. Foremost, my sister wanted to update me on twenty-five-year-old James Byler, a Huntington resident and a Marine 1st Lieutenant, who was seriously wounded in Afghanistan last year when he tripped a landmine.
To spare his life, doctors amputated both of his legs above the knees, as well the pinky fingers on his two hands. I first learned of Lt. Byler’s story—and the bond that we shared as fellow amputees—this past Thanksgiving. My youngest nephews knew James Byler as an Eagle Scout and as a leader in their local Boy Scout troop. And on Thanksgiving morning, they ran in the area’s annual four-mile Turkey Trot, which raises money for worthy causes. This go-around, the worthy cause was for one of their own, with the proceeds going to the eventual building of a specially equipped home for this double amputee and heroic member of the Armed Forces.
It sometimes takes a James Byler story to remind us that Memorial Day is more than just hot dogs and hamburgers on the grill, the beach, and Hangover Part II. It’s a stark reminder, too, that World War I was not “the war to end all wars.”