On a cold night in New York City, I walked into a McDonald’s for some comfort food and standing next to me was Dave Wimberg. Only it wasn’t Dave. This man was too tall and far too alive. Dave, you see, was killed in Iraq ten years ago.
After the bars are closed I don’t normally make a point of staring down men taller than me (staring up?), but I stared all the same, without any concern for how that may be perceived. Fortunately, he was the shy type and smiled nervously, so I apologized, telling him he had a familiar face.
He gets that a lot, he said.
“You look like a Marine who was killed in Iraq.” I told him. I wasn’t sure if I’d wanted to make this weird, but in the end, I decided I would regret it if I didn’t tell him why this moment was different. “His name was David Wimberg. The History Channel did a small feature on him. He went out like Rambo. You should look him up.”
This was me somehow doing my part to “bridge the civilian/military divide,” as they say.
Being told you look like a dead war hero isn’t typically something one has a canned response for, so he offered the obligatory responses. Did you serve with him? (Yes.) Thank you. (Sure.)
As I walked home, I tried to imagine what was in this kid’s head, now. When I left the McDonald’s, I saw him and his girlfriend huddling over a phone and reading how this man who could have been his twin was 10,000 miles from home and pinned down with his squad in an ambush when he scaled a wall and sprinted through gunfire to cease the attack. He kicked in a door, and as the door flew open, four insurgents turned their rifles to meet his one.
They all pulled their triggers.
Some friends told me that his body was found surrounded by enemy dead, the same way they would inspire us with tales of hero Marine martyrs who died surrounded by dead Japanese or Germans or Viet Cong. But the citation doesn’t say, and maybe it’s better that way.
He was posthumously awarded the Silver Star for his valor.
When I went home I looked up Dave’s citation and saw his face for the first time in years. My god he was young. We all were. I’m now in my thirties and sprouting a few grey hairs, but when I look at that baby face, he’s still my elder, even though I have aged, and he has not.