Dear Eric Barnes:
You don't know who I am, but I've heard a lot about you. I know that, like me, you made the decision to volunteer your service to the United States. I know that, like me, you enlisted in the Air Force with dreams of serving your country and leading a fulfilling military career. And I know that, unlike me, you sacrificed something that most of us deem unimaginable: your life.
I never had the pleasure of meeting you before you left us. I was never a part of the stories I've heard about your adventures with B. Our paths never crossed before we both left active duty. Yet now, somehow, I feel as if we could've been friends all along.
I met your family for the first time last night, Eric. And although you'll never see it, rest assured knowing that their home has become an unequalable shrine to your memory. Your pictures are everywhere; your medals and accolades bring to life the walls on which they hang. But the thing I feel moved me the most was a small sign hanging above the couch in your living room, one that read, "if love could've saved you, you would've lived forever."
Today is Thanksgiving, and as I spend the day with Bruce and his family, I can't help but feel sorrow knowing that there is an empty seat at your family's table that you will never fill again. Across the country, as many go around the table naming things for which they are thankful: their families, their health, their good fortune...I'm thankful that people like you exist, Eric, people who have laid down their lives so that we may be here with the ones we love. Those who go after us will thank us for the sacrifices we have made, but none more important than yours.
In the end, as is written on the license plate on your truck, one which you've never seen before, "RIP EMB." You're dearly missed. Even by those who've never even met you. Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to go pull myself together..
Sincerely and respectfully,