By Craig Hayes
Last Friday night, Justin Buckley, a running back for the Oceanside (N.Y.) High School Sailors broke free for a twenty-five yard touchdown to put the finishing touches on a comeback 36-21 victory over the East Meadow High Jets. After he crossed the goal line, he celebrated his score in a unique and special way.
It was the same way he celebrated his other two touchdowns this year, and I am sure he will follow every touchdown he scores for the rest of his life in an identical fashion.
He didn’t dance, there was no Gronkowski-like spike, no posturing or posing. He just stopped, looked to the heavens, and saluted.
Not to the fans, nor to our flag, but to his older brother, Greg.
Or to be more accurate, to United States Marine Lance Corporal Gregory T. Buckley Jr., just 21 years old when he was killed in action in Afghanistan on August 10, 2012.
There have been 6,572 servicemen and women killed in Iraq, Afghanistan and other regions of the Middle East since our country has undertaken the Operations of “Iraqi Freedom” and “Enduring Freedom.” And while I did not know Corporal Buckley, I am willing to bet that all he wanted to do in life was perform his duty, then return home to the simple pleasures in life that we all tend to take for granted, like the feel of a familar, soft bed, his mother’s home cooking, and the pride of watching his little brother play football.
When the game was over, Justin, wearing his brother’s old jersey number 30, was joined by his teammates clad in special camoflauge colors as a tribute to Greg for one final salute in to his fallen brother.
I pray that this incredible show of respect, love, and honor spreads to other high school programs across the country. I hope that it extends to colleges on Saturdays and to the NFL on Sundays, where our so-called idols could use a sense of humility and reverence for the true heroes of this country.
I hope it continues until every service member is home where they belong and that it can somehow, miraculously, be done while freezing that casualty number at 6,572.
Sadly, I know that I am wishing for too much, but if I could have one aspiration that has a better chance of coming true it would be the following.
Millions of Americans will spend this autumn enjoying the wonderful traditions of Friday Night Lights, Saturday tailgates, and lazy Sundays on the couch with the NFL.
If you are lucky enough to attend these games, when that National Anthem is played, remove your caps, look at the flag, and remember those soldiers who would love nothing more than to be in your shoes watching the most American of sports.
After learning about Justin and Greg Buckley, I will never take our anthem or our freedom for granted again. Because it is the fans who are not there, who may never come back home to watch their alma maters, cheer on their little brothers, or just roll a football with their own children across a lawn, it is those men and women who grant us the safe harbor to enjoy these moments in our lives.
Justin Buckley reminded me today through his poignant act to honor our troops’ service, never forget his brother’s sacrifice and wish all of our soldiers Godspeed until they are home.