This season normally is filled with joyful anticipation, meaningful rituals and heart-warming traditions, not pain and sorrow.
For those who loved, admired, and worried about Michael Kentes, 63, the season will forevermore be tarnished by memories of his death.
Michael was one of thousands of American boys drafted into the military to fight the most unpopular war in our history. By a quirk of fate, he even made the cover of National Geographic Magazine. Wearing camo and a black beret, the former Ranger was searching The Wall for the names of buddies who didn't make it back alive.
Thrilled as I am that the war in Iraq is being put to an end, I cannot help but think about all the volunteers in our military now. Unlike draftees sent to Southeast Asia, they made a choice. They are no more or less brave than our guys who were drafted. What sets them apart is their conscious choice to take on America's enemies.
Many will be coming home this month and next. Their families and friends will welcome them with open arms and festive parties. I hope those families and friends will remember that their military "heroes" don't necessarily feel like heroes for simply surviving combat.
The buddies with whom they bonded during the most traumatic experiences will be on their minds. Thoughts of those who were horribly injured or died will come when least expected. Guilt over killing and surviving will also take tolls on their hearts and minds.
As you might imagine, living in Washington, D.C., we are surrounded by military installations, monuments and memorials. They serve as constant reminders of how fortunate we are to live in a free country, protected by devoted, well-trained men and women.
As we enjoy and celebrate the holidays, let's remember our protectors. In my mind, they are members of the "intelligence community," police and fire-fighters as well as members of the military; past and present. Our ability to relax and enjoy depends on their diligence.