We were all blood and connected in our roots to each other. An Ehredt, a Flynn, and a Mullane, Tied together through generations of family that had farmed this small corner of northwest IL, we stood for the briefest time in one spot, before a flower bed, before a flag, saluting in unison.

The three of us had all served in the Army through five decades and it had been a short service commitment for us all. The oldest (my grandfather) would return and farm for years, operate a bulldozer and service chainsaws. Throughout his chores and daily farm duties, he found time to bounce every grandchild on his knee, eat chocolate chip cookies with coffee and attend church every Saturday night in town.

The next in line (my Uncle) would come home from Germany and on April 12th, 1969 marry his sweetheart, my Aunt. He was an engineer and had a brilliant mind. I swear he could turn shit into sugar. They would raise two boys and all the while sharing 49 years of love and life together. He lived within earshot of Grandpa, their homes peeking at each other through the woods.

The last in line is me. Looking at the picture I am reminded of a time in my life spent on foot everyday across the country on a mission. That day ended in Grandpa's yard by his mailbox.

I am alone now. We lost Grandpa Eddie seven years ago and Uncle Gary in the past few weeks.

I was sitting on my porch that day, sipping bourbon. Often when I think alone, I drink alone. I remembered speaking with him on their anniversary only the week before. His regret at not making it to Idaho to visit, but I said, it is as close to heaven as one can get and that I would see him up above when I get there one day.

I would not have chosen anyone else to be my Uncle. He was the best, ever.

The sky was blue and a jet was overhead leaving behind a stream of white vapors. It hit me then rather unexpectedly,  "There goes Uncle Gary on his way...."

I had no idea he had passed away that afternoon.

Grateful is defined as: feeling or showing thanks.

I have nothing but gratitude for what both these fine men gave me. They gave me laughter, so much laughter and never judged me. The bar was set very high and one of values and respect, morals and commitment, dedication and love. It is a bar I may never reach.

I can only strive to attain the example they have left me.

Someone once said that "Days are long and years are short". How true. So what do we do with them? Live. Live like it is our last day. One time will be the last time. Even in a picture.

I am left now with only memories that will calm me in the darkest days of sadness or the brightest days of joy and I am grateful for one day, one moment in the sun in August of 2010.

Three soldiers... .