November 2020: I’ll never forget my first drive into Owasso. I transplanted to Tulsa in late 2017, and it wasn’t until several months after that I had reason to drive north on Highway 169 to run an errand. On my way, I spotted a little green sign off the highway that read “Sergeant Schuyler B. Patch Memorial Highway.”
A lump formed in my throat.
I’d seen a million of these signs, and I’d always wondered what had happened to the person who was on the other side of that name. But for this one, I didn’t have to wonder. I was the chaplain assistant who held this soldier’s memorial ceremony in Gardez, Afghanistan.
The first battalion from our unit, the 33rd Brigade Combat Team (BCT), arrived in August 2008. In the first three months, we lost three guys straight out of the gate, but in November, December, and January, we were starting to hope that maybe fortune was shining on our deployment.
Then came February. We lost six that month, including Sgt. Schuyler. The casualties kept piling for the remainder of the deployment.
I never met Sgt. Schuyler - he was assigned to southern Afghanistan while I was posted in the east. But he died alongside Sgt. Stream, one of the most eloquent soldiers I’d ever known, who penned a letter so hauntingly poetic just before he died that The Chicago Tribune published it after their deaths. Theirs was the only memorial ceremony that I left without a dry eye.
Originally “Armistice Day,” Veteran’s Day first occurred on the inaugural anniversary of World War I, which officially ended at 11:00 am on November 11th - hence Veteran’s Day always landing on 11/11. Of course, this holiday is a day to celebrate veterans, but it’s also been designated on this specific date to remind us that all wars eventually end, and we’ll someday be able to celebrate that, no matter what we’re facing in this moment.
After racking up the losses in what was the worst year for casualties at that point in the war, the 33rd BCT packed up and left Afghanistan in late 2009. Life’s not been the same for me since - a little grayer, a little harder - and I know this is the story for most (if not all) the soldiers that came over with us. But on this Veteran’s Day, I - an Illinois transplant to Oklahoma - am reminded of the sacrifice of Sgt. Schuyler - an Oklahoma transplant to Illinois. Though this war has raged for nearly 20 years now, we will one day have our “Armistice Day.” And on that day, we don’t just get to celebrate the sacrifices that soldiers like Sgt. Schuyler made, but also celebrate the safe coming home of those who are still out there.
Whenever I drive the short stretch between 86th to 96th Streets on the highway in Owasso, it’s a memorial highway, indeed.
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