On my final deployment to Afghanistan, my friend Patrick Hawkins was killed in combat alongside three others: Cody Patterson, Joe Peters and Jenny Moreno. People found all sorts of ways to honor them — tattoos, posted signs, bracelets, memorial statues — people come up with all sorts of creative ways to honor the fallen. I have always appreciated the gesture, as I’m sure Patrick’s wife and parents do too.
Patrick used to work at the Appalachian Harley-Davidson near Carlisle, PA when he was in high school. I knew him much later, but he seemed to enjoy working there quite a bit and had some pretty funny stories. He always talked about this guy who came in, bought one of their pricier bikes, drove it off the lot and laid it down on the first corner, denting and scratching it all up. He came back, literally minutes later, head hung low and just returned the bike for a significant loss. Patrick always laughed when he told that one. He talked about all the sorts of people, from die-hard bikers to casual travelers, that would pass through there.
His love for motorbikes would culminate in him taking a cross-country trip with his father, a bonding experience he would always talk about. I drove a lot of smaller bikes growing up, and I understand the freedom that the road offers; like going on a long hike, deep into the heart of nature, it makes accessible that single-mindedness that is in short supply these days. It allows my mind, when it’s feeling bunched up and tight and like it can’t stop firing on all cylinders, to finally take a deep breath and relax for a moment.
After he died, the Appalachian Harley-Davidson that Pat had worked at put up the letters you see on the sign above. It was a small gesture, but it meant a lot to someone like me — sometimes we would get so lost in our Ranger community and our work that it seemed like no one on the outside was really aware or cared what was going on in there, besides close family and friends. After the night that took Patrick, Cody, Jenny and Joe, I was astonished at the amount of support and love that came from all corners of the United States. I felt like a big chunk of the nation was mourning in solidarity with myself, my Ranger brethren and those closest to the ones we lost.
Small tokens of remembrance have meant the world to me.
Below is a picture of Patrick, riding on Fort Benning during his service in the U.S. Army. I believe this was on Dixie Road (now called the Colonel Ralph Puckett Parkway) past the gas station we had frequented many times together.