Note: I attended a bridge dedication ceremony this week for my friend Michael MacKinnon. It's hard to imagine it's been almost fifteen years since his death. I wrote this memorial after his death. I thought it would be good to put it up on the internet for anyone looking for an extra memory or two of him.
October 30, 2005
America lost a hero last week when Michael MacKinnon died. I have to admit that I didn’t peg Mike for a hero when I first met him. I was five. He was seven. What I first noticed about Mike was that he wore a train conductor’s hat every second that he wasn’t in the pool and he was always up to some sort of trouble, even in the pool. Many times that trouble involved teasing his older sisters, but no one had a free pass from his quick tongue and goofy pranks. He aged out of the conductor’s hat, but never grew out of his habit of pulling out wry remarks during even the most inappropriate of occasions.
The first time that I noticed the greatness in Mike was when we were captains on the Capital High swim team in high school. He was a senior and I was a sophomore. We manned the helm of what even the proudest parent had to refer to as a “rebuilding” year for Bruin swimming. I was terrified. There was no doubt that we were going to be horrible and I couldn’t imagine trying to lead people through that kind of a season. Mike said not to worry. Just relax and work hard. Things will fall into place. He was right, they did.
His calm determination in the face of that adversity led me to look at my friend in a different light. Time after time, Mike put himself up against some of the world’s greatest challenges and accomplished them through quiet determination. He pushed himself into West Point. I remember talking him during Christmas break of his plebe (freshman) year. He hated it. The stress was overwhelming. After that talk, I wasn’t sure that Mike would go back. But he got on the plane and went on to accomplish the mission – like always.
Mike continued to find more ways to challenge himself. He chose Infantry, the hardest branch in the Army, as a career path. Foregoing a cushy desk job for the long marches, little sleep, and bad food. Then he chose to join the prestigious 82nd Airborne Division, a proud group of hard-fighting soldiers that could break even the best leaders. They didn’t break Mike. He chose to continue serving beyond the five-year commitment. Mike invaded Iraq as a member of the Third Infantry Division. Proudly leading soldiers into battle as the American forces took down one of the world’s evilest regimes.
Mike went for his second tour in Iraq. The military gave him the horrible task of turning around a struggling infantry company while fighting against a powerful and brutal insurgency. Someone had to take care of those soldiers to ensure that as many of them got home as possible. Mike accepted the challenge – like always. While I grieve for him I know in my heart that many of the infantrymen in that Company will walk off the planes and into their families arms solely because God blessed them with Captain Michael MacKinnon as a company commander.
Americans are beginning to ask their civilian leadership tough questions about why they sent out troops over to Iraq. This is a democracy and the citizens deserve intelligent and reasonable answers to those questions. Yet, the politicians’ answers cannot reflect on the barebones reality of my friend’s mission. Mike and his soldiers fought against extremely bad men intent on continuing their oppression of the Iraqi people. Geostrategic questions do not affect that reality. Mike gave his life protecting the weak from the strong. There can be no greater honor.
Mike left behind a wife, two kids, an amazing family, and a wide group of friends. Within hours, the news of his death sent a powerful wave of grief that extended to both coasts. There are so many lessons to be learned from the life of this great man. To me, the most important one has to be that this town and this nation must create more men like Michael MacKinnon, brave men with good hearts and a dedication to selfless service. We can’t survive without them.