Saturday, May 24, 2008

A Man Called "Sweet Pea"

This Memorial Day, as they have for the past five years, residents of Skowhegan, Maine will be thinking about Jay Aubin, one of the first among 4081-and-counting American troops to die in Iraq.

What the numbers conceal is the continuing grief of countless families, friends and neighbors in every corner of the country who live with the loss of young men and women like Aubin, who was 36 when he died on March 20, 2003, leaving behind a wife, two young children and memories of a good life.

On a wall at Margaret Chase Smith School in Skowhegan are pictures of him from the time he was a middle-schooler who wanted to be a pilot to photos of a Marine officer with his flight helmet next to a helicopter with markings on the side: Capt. "Sweet Pea" Aubin, so named for his upbeat attitude.

A teacher there has used him as a model to show students they can achieve whatever they want and still be kind to people. "If you can be 'Sweet Pea' and be a macho Marine pilot, you can be 'Sweet Pea' on the playground, 'Sweet Pea' in the cafeteria," he explains. "There's no reason not to be nice no matter who you are or who you want to be."

Apparently he never changed. As a Marine, Aubin, who didn't drink, would check a bus out of the motor pool and park in front of the dance hall after a ball to provide rides for those who drank too much.

"If the helicopter goes down and anyone is killed, I want to go, too," he once told his mother.

Aubin died in a crash during a dust storm near the Kuwait border in the first days of the war.

This weekend, as politicians make speeches and veterans march and flags fly, the people who knew him will be thinking of a man called "Sweet Pea," as countless others will be remembering young men and women like him. No words or symbols will take away the pain of losing them.

No comments: