I was walking my dog last week past our local cemetery when I saw a block of black granite behind the fence. The City of St. Helena put it there to honor our town’s fallen soldiers. Having never seen it up close, I passed through the cemetery gates for a better look.
On its honed surface, I counted five wars and 28 names belonging to St. Helena men who had died in combat thousands of miles from home. Each war had its own column of names. Afghanistan, a war still in progress, had only one name:
Darrick, a Navy Seal, Petty Officer First Class, died in a helicopter crash in 2011 while helping an Army Ranger squad under attack. He was 28.
While I remembered reading about his death, seeing his name alone on that stone, made me long for knowledge of the person he’d been-not as soldier but in my community. I’ve lived in St. Helena for 15 years. There’s a good chance I crossed paths with Darrick at the grocery store, local cinema or a football game.
I went to my computer and typed his name into my browser. An image of a handsome, young man in a blue v-neck shirt grinned at me. The resemblance to my son was so striking it was hard to continue. From news clips, I learned Darrick hated the water when he was little. That he grew up in nearby Angwin and played football at our local high school. In a class of 140 SEAL trainees, he was one of only 19 to graduate. He died a month before the end of his tour, leaving behind a toddler son and a girlfriend he was to marry. He was going to be a flight instructor when he left the Navy.
The more I read, the better I knew Derrick, which felt good. Now that I know him, there’s no way I will ever forget his name there in the cemetery.
With a Perspective, I’m Holly Hubbard Preston.
Holly Hubbard Preston is a local writer. She lives in St. Helena.