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Memorial Day – From someone who has no right walking around alive

Memorial Day – From someone who has no right walking around alive

Memorial Day was established in 1868 to remember fallen soldiers, celebrated on the last Monday in May, and marking the beginning of Summer.  25 places claim to have originated the holiday. But what does it mean?

I am not a veteran, have never served in the military. But my rosy red butt has been on the line for my country a few times.

I joined the Central Intelligence Agency in the 1980s and stayed for 12 years. In that time, I traveled to about 30 different countries, most in some trouble or another, terrorism, narcotics, insurgency, or just a plain ol’ Cold War adversary.

The CIA was actually pretty careful about making its travelers as safe as possible around the world. They moved to establish security step by step and sent us specialists in as far as possible under safe circumstances.  But we couldn’t always stay there.

Sometimes we were the pointy end of the stick.

My “interesting” experiences included a car bomb, a fighter jet with evil intent, a couple of episodes of friendlies who didn’t realize who we were and an instance where a guy who substituted for me on a mission lost his life, leaving a wife and two children.

At some point, each officer (the FBI has “agents,” the CIA has “officers”) thinks about what it would mean to die in such circumstances.  Some officers leave the Agency completely or pull back to a Headquarters post and stay there.

I decided that I loved what I was doing and why I was doing it, I was working on America’s big and important problems, making a difference.

And I decided that if I got whacked at some point, it was a life well lived.

Some in the military serve their career like this, knowing they are working on America’s big problems.  I’ve worked with a few of them, they are bigger than life, sometimes great guys and sometimes assholes but always competent, conscientious and patriots like you would never believe.

I once shared a hotel room with four Navy Seals in a s^%^thole country in Africa. One night they came in very late, found out that the local ferry had overturned and they had each rescued about  50 locals from drowning in the bay.

Yes, that kind of stuff.

Others who serve in the military never have a chance to resolve their philosophy of life or figure out what they may be contributing, they are thrust into battle and just never return.

Today is when you remember these men and women without whom you would not have a country.  I’ve chosen to also remember my colleagues in the CIA who have fallen.

Enjoy the day off, enjoy time with family and friends. But pause just a minute and remember.

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  1. Larry

    I don’t know Joe Gilbertson but I know where he Isco I get from. 20 years. navy and 26 years CIA. I also worked in many countries tries and mostly not too friendly. I agree, the Agency went to great extremes to keep us safe, but crap does happen. I have many friends on the Viet Nam wall and I have several friends on the Wall at CIA Headquarters. God rest their souls.

    • Joe Gilbertson

      Nobody says it to us, because they mostly don’t know, but thank you for your CIA service.

  2. Alex

    Thank you Joe for your service and the article. We owe much gratitude to the men & women who kept America safe under very precarious circumstances. Our heroes are not forgotten and will never be. Happy Memorial Day.