Today has become a more somber day for me as the years pass, and what’s left of my hair is quickly overcome with gray. Age makes one reflect, and sometimes that reflection turns to melancholy. For those of us that have lost buddies or family members, this day holds a special, if somber meaning. It’s more than cookouts, a weekend at the lake, or a quick family vacation.
But cook outs and a weekend...or a week in Canada fishing...is what it’s all about.
It’s a time to remember and pay tribute to some great Americans who paid the full measure, so that we may enjoy the fruits of their sacrifice. And remember not so much that they died, but that they lived.
Like Scherk and the only Massachusetts Kennedy to ever amount to anything.
CW4 Chris Scherkenbach was a CH-47 pilot I knew when I was stationed at Ft. Bragg, NC, and then in Korea. Scherk was a funny dude, and always quick with a joke. When I was at Bragg, he was in our sister company down at Savannah, Georgia, and whenever we worked on joint ops he was a guy that always stood out. He was skinny as a rail, sarcastic as Hell, and one of the best pilots I’ve ever met.
I knew I was going to like him immediately.
When I got to Korea, he was one of the first guys that greeted me when I got to Camp Humphries. He tossed me a beer and said ‘365 and a wake up, brother. Let’s go get some soju.’
We quickly became great friends in Korea. Me and Scherk were part of the ‘Bragg Mafia’, a group of about 5-6 pilots from Bragg and Savannah that hung out together, all the time. Every night, we’d gather in someone’s hooch, the the host was responsible for cooking for the rest of us. It was cool because you only had to end up cooking once a week, it’s just that you were cooking for five or six guys.
Now, these weren’t extravagant meals. We lived in a barracks room, which for us warrant officers meant, basically, an efficiency apartment. Add to those conditions half a dozen geographical bachelors that could maybe boil water without burning the building down, our meals consisted of stuff like Hamburger Helper, Rice a Roni, and whatever pre-packaged meals we could get our hands on at the Camp Humphries commissary, which at the time was smaller than your corner convenience store.
Beef Stroganoff Hamburger Helper quickly became the go to meal du jour for about 3-4 of us...which meant we were eating it 3-4 times a week. Look, I like it, don’t get me wrong, but after awhile we were all getting sick of it. I can’t remember which we were in, but one night Scherk had had enough, and started bitching about how often we have beef stroganoff Hamburger Helper. He opened the floodgates, and we all ended up bitching about having so much of it all...the...damn...time.
So the next night it’s Scherk’s turn to cook. We get over there...and the sonofabitch is making Beef Freaking Stroganoff.
‘Scherk, what the hell? We bitched all night about Beef Stroganoff, and you were the head bitcher. What gives?’
‘Can’t leave my comfort zone, boys. One of you Sallys make it. Should be ready in about 10 minutes.’
After Korea, Scherk made his way into the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, the Army Special Operations Helicopter regiment, and I made my way to Germany, and then in to Air Force Special Operations as a helicopter pilot.
On June 28th, 2005, while attempting to rescue the SEAL Team made famous by the book and movie Lone Survivor, Scherk’s MH-47 was shot down by an RPG and he was killed instantly.
Kyran Kennedy was my downstairs neighbor in Germany, my duty assignment right after I left Korea. He was a UH-60 pilot, and although we were in the same battalion, I never had an opportunity to fly on a mission with him. But our families got to know Kyran and his family pretty well over our three years stationed in Germany. We lived in a three story building in the really small town of Gaukonigshofen, in northern Bavaria. It was just a couple miles from Giebelstadt Army Airfield, where we were stationed. Six military families lived in that building, and all of the guys were helicopter pilots, flying either UH-60’s or CH-47’s.
Kyran and and his wife Kathy threw some great parties, and it was Kyran who first introduced me to German Dunkel Hefe Weizen beer, not too long after we moved in. He always had a rack (German version of case) of it at his house, and invariably I’d be out in the common area backyard watching my youngest daughter play on the swing, and he’d saunter out to watch his kids do the same. He always had a beer for me, and we’d sit and talk about whatever, interspersed with a ‘you’re climbing too high, Ally, get down’, or ‘don’t pour dirt on your head’ Dad-ism to our kids.
Kyran was from Massachusetts originally, and I used to joke with him that he was the only Massachusetts Kennedy that ever really amounted to anything, even though he was a liar and reprobate of a Black Hawk pilot. He was a hell of a woodworker, and if my memory serves me correctly, made a lot of the furniture in their house, to include the crib for their youngest kid. Both of us left Germany within a few months of each other back in 1998. I went back to Ft. Rucker as a CH-47 instructor pilot prior to going to AFSOC; Kyran went back to Ft. Campbell, where he and Kathy planned to retire.
CW3 Kyran Kennedy was shot down and killed November 7, 2003, near Tikrit, Iraq.
I was one of the lucky ones. I had several close calls in Afghanistan, and a couple ‘welp, game over’ moments, but fortune smiled on me, and I came home. As such, as you read this I’m in Canada, fishing with my brother, stepdad, and close friends. When I get off the water today, I am going to toast my fallen brothers, and remember them fondly.
I hope that wherever you are, and whatever you’re doing, you’re having a fun day, or fun weekend. Being a free American means you can choose to do a number of things, be it grilling out, at the lake fishing, or any number of things.
Enjoy your Memorial Day, in memory of whoever your Scherk or your Kyran is. Raise a glass to them and to their families, and be thankful not so much that those men died, but that such men lived.
Because I’m going to be eternally grateful for them, and to so many others, for their sacrifice.
Godspeed, gentlemen. You’re missed, every day.
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;
And gentlemen in England now-a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.
—Henry V, Act IV, Scene III, William Shakespeare
If you have any memories of your friends or family members, please feel free to share them below.