If you reflect for a moment- you will think of that one person you may know- that someone who inspires you to be your best self. For me, that person was- and still is- Army 1LT Timothy E. Price. The young man I knew as “Tim” was a remarkable and heroic person long-before his life was cut tragically short serving in Iraq in September of 2004. The way Tim chose to live his life- in ways big and small- is my inspiration on Memorial Day- and all the other days of the year. On this Memorial Day weekend- I want to share one of those amazing acts of “Tim being Tim” that had an immeasurable impact on me and my family.
In September of 2001, the day before 9-11, I started my teaching assignment at Virginia Tech, in Blacksburg, VA. One of the first Cadets I met was Tim Price. I could tell in a moment that he was a special person- a spirit of optimism, a sense of commitment, and a level a maturity beyond his years. Despite the fact that I had all the military experience and was the “teacher”- I found myself learning about leadership from Tim. Over that year I worked with Tim I could see how he inspired others- humble, yet confident…committed yet patient…principled, yet never judgmental. We had conversations about politics, the state of the world, family, and everything in-between in what was a very complicated post-9-11 world. Tim stayed on with me that summer after his graduation in May of 2002- serving as a recruiting assistant as he prepared for his officer training in Missouri later that fall. His genuine nature, and wiliness to listen were again traits that came so naturally to Tim because he cared, sincerely cared, about others. At no time was this more evident than during the birth of my son that September.
On September 11, 2002- Tim was with me in the office when I got word that my wife was going into labor with our first son. As babies do- our little boy decided to come a few weeks before my wife was due and we were anything but prepared. As I frantically exited the office to take her to the hospital Tim asked me for my house keys- so that he could “grab some of our things” and bring them to the hospital for us. A million thoughts ran through my mind as my wife and I headed to the hospital- the nursery room that wasn’t done, the baby things that were not put together, all the things I wanted to do to make our home ready for our early-arriving little boy- Luke. As life took over contractions, fetal monitors and epidurals took precedence over concerns about bassinets, blankets and onesies. Nevertheless- a few days later- the reality of “heading-home” was there- and all those thoughts of how unprepared our home was hit me like a ton of bricks. My wife had done all the work- and then some- and I couldn’t even have the Pampers in place. What kind of fledgling father was I?
As we drove into the driveway with our baby boy I remembered that Tim had put my keys in the bag he had graciously brought to the hospital the previous day. Little did I know that the bag was merely the tip of the iceberg. When I opened the door- it was then- above and beyond all the other amazing things I’d seen Tim do- that I knew how remarkable a person he was. In that 36-hours we’d been at the hospital Tim had finished painting our kitchen, built the crib and basinet, and even shopped for baby items- right down to pacifiers.
That level of understanding, and caring exemplified in a 22-year-old man’s selfless gestures- that’s what flooded into my thoughts the day I heard Tim had been killed in action some three-years later in September of 2004. I sat in my car- unable to move- and unable to process the news. I ached for his family- as a father of a now 3-year old- the very son Tim had so graciously helped me welcome home. I was unable to fathom the loss they must have felt. For all of us- his friends, his soldiers, for those he touched- we’d lost a remarkable person- who’d inspired the best in all of us.
Tim’s loss is, and will always be, a tragedy. However, for me, the best of him is not defined by that ultimate sacrifice he made on that September day in 2004 in Baghdad. It’s defined by his acts of genuine kindness in all he did during his 25-years. These selfless sacrifices, big and small, and his caring and commitment made him my hero well before his heroic life in uniform! I think in many ways that’s true of so many that we honor and remember on Memorial Day.
In the years between my son’s birth in September of 2002 and Tim’s passing in September of 2004 he returned to Virginia Tech, visiting with all of us. He had graduated, been assigned in Germany, and already served one tour of duty in Iraq. On one of these visits I reminded him of that day- when I threw him my keys as I ran out the ROTC office door to become a father. I asked him “What made you do all of that Tim?” In his natural and humble way he simply said “It was the right thing to do.”
So, almost every day, when I’m confronted with challenges, personal, professional, big and small- I think the impact he had on my life and so many others. He’s my hero, and I reflect on all he did this Memorial Day weekend- not with remorse or sadness- but inspired to be my better self because of the man I knew as Tim.