This isn’t about tragedy and this isn’t about war.
This isn’t about hatred and it’s not about sorrow.
Honor? Yes. Valor? Definitely.
But above all, this is about how love endures, even after hell on earth.
Meet Frank Martinek, brother of Army Private First Class Matthew Martinek, killed Afghanistan in 2009.
Meet Tammy Moore, mother of Army Private First Class Brandon Pickering, killed in Afghanistan in 2011.
Frank and Tammy work at the North American Parts Center, Kentucky. They bonded as members of the Toyota Veteran’s Association (TVA)
Together, they work through tears and grief, keeping the memories of Matthew and Brandon alive. And sometimes, when the days without their loved ones get too tough to bear, Frank and Tammy sit in the NAPCK break room and cry together, reflecting on lives that ended much too soon.
So no, this isn’t about tragedy. It’s about the bond these tragedies spawned. Because, in their deaths, Matthew and Brandon brought people together.
A Mother’s Love Never Dies
“Losing a child is like losing your soul,” says Tammy, a warehouseperson who has spent 18 years at NAPCK. “You have all this love for your child and your child is gone. And you’re still here holding all this love. It needs to go somewhere, so I end up giving it to my friends and coworkers. I have this love to give, and I’m gonna give it.”
That love belonged to Brandon. He was just out of high school when he decided to join the military. After all, Tammy spent some time in the Navy, and her brother was a Marine. Still, Tammy made Brandon finish out his first college semester before giving her blessing to enlist.
It was war time. And the inevitable happened when Brandon left for Afghanistan in October 2010.
In phone calls and Facebook messages, he complained of boredom. Tammy learned later that her son engaged the enemy on a daily basis.
“He didn’t want me to worry,” Tammy says. “That tells me that he loved his mother. I’m grateful because I would have done the same for him.”
The Moores decided to donate Brandon’s organs. A doctor told them one would go to a 6-year-old girl.
“So even though I wasn’t going to get my miracle,” Tammy says, “another mother was going to get hers.”
The years after Brandon’s death were understandably rough for Tammy. Her teammates at NAPCK did what they could. Management worked with her to welcome her back in her own time. Eventually, she returned to her old self, even serving as chair of the NAPCK’s TVA chapter. But undoubtedly, her once bright light stayed dim.
“I never thought I’d feel joy again,” she says. “I had days where I didn’t want to live anymore. I believe all my days have been filled with love and compassion. But I missed my son.”
And then one day, about three years after Brandon’s death, her light returned.
“I was out working in my flower bed and I turned around and looked at my house and, I don’t know, I just felt joy. I felt at peace. I was out doing something. I was gardening. I could see the new life I was creating.”
A Brother’s Pride Endures
Frank is a tough guy. And as a former Marine who served in Iraq, he knew what Matthew was up against. But still, the dangers of war didn’t register to Frank. He and his older brother got through their tours. Their youngest brother would, too.
And Frank held onto that assumption until his phone began ringing uncontrollably in September 2009.
“Before I called anyone back,” says Frank, a field ops supervisor at NAPCK, “I knew what they were calling about.”
Matthew was involved in an ambush. That’s all the Martineks learned that day. They’d be flown to Germany to see him. And even in the seconds before walking into Matthew’s hospital room, Frank figured it would all be OK.
“We knew it wasn’t a KIA (killed in action), so I thought there was a fighting chance he would be OK, and he would have a pretty good story at the end of this.”
It soon became clear that wasn’t the case. And Frank couldn’t bear to go in and see Matthew.
“Basically, me being me,” Frank says, “I didn’t really want to see him…”
…This is hard to talk about. And even though, Frank has made a habit of telling the story of Matthew’s death to veterans groups and anyone that will listen, it doesn’t get any easier. So, forgive Frank Martinek for breaking down in memory of his brother.
Tammy sits next to Frank, rubbing his back. The friends take turns supporting each other this way.
This feeling doesn’t go away. Not completely. Not ever. But together, they can make it just a little bit better.
“I think Frank is a stand-up fellow,” Tammy says.
“Tammy is a compassionate person who is always looking to do the right thing,” Frank says. “She’ll speak her mind, and that’s a good thing because she has a way of making people listen. She talks about real problems.”
Real problems that brought them together at TVA.
“It’s one of my obligations to use TVA as a platform to explain what the military is about,” says Frank, the current chair of the NAPCK TVA. “Tammy helps me spread that message.”
“I joined TVA because I wanted to help veterans,” Tammy says. “If my company was going to let me do that with their backing, then that’s what I wanted to do.”
In spreading that message, Frank wants to remind people that Memorial Day is about remembering fallen men and women of the armed forces.
“It’s about those who have given it all and have made the ultimate sacrifice,” he says. “As military men and women, that’s the ultimate honor. I signed up for a time of war, Matthew and Brandon, too. We each knew what we were getting into. We put our lives on the line for you and everyone else. We were willing to sacrifice ourselves for this country. That’s how much love we have for this country. And that’s the picture I want to paint.”
By Dan Nied