The question comes innocently enough, but it jars me all the same. In 2005, my late husband, Army Captain Phillip Esposito, was murdered when a subordinate solider detonated a claymore anti-personnel landmine in my husband’s sleeping quarters, killing my husband and another soldier. In 2008, Staff Sergeant Alberto Martinez, of Schaghticoke, NY, was acquitted by court martial of any responsibility for the slayings, this despite evidence that placed Martinez at the scene of the crime, connected him to the weapon used, and established his overwhelming hatred against my husband for attempting to relieve him for cause.
In this light, I do not celebrate Memorial Day as much as I endure it.
The purpose of Memorial Day is to honor servicemembers who died in defense of our nation. These servicemembers all took an oath that defined the nature of their commitment. Today that oath is as follows:
I, [NAME], do solemnly swear [or affirm] that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.I believe that Phillip and his fellow slain soldier, 1st Lieutenant Louis Allen, each lived up to the terms of that oath. The tragedy of their deaths is that far too many of their fellow soldiers did not.
Phillip’s fellow soldiers did not live up to their oath of enlistment when they left Staff Sergeant Martinez’s repeated threats and gestures of contempt against Phillip go unpunished, in defiance of military law. Had Martinez been properly held to account for these threats, Phillip and Lou would likely be alive today.
But there is another group of soldiers who failed to live up to their oath of enlistment. I believe that the jurors who voted to acquit Martinez also failed to live up to their oath when they allegedly allowed their bias against capital punishment cloud their judgment, when they allegedly used their rank to squelch honest deliberation, and when they allegedly failed to properly vote upon all the charges sent to them by the military judge administering Martinez’s trial. If these allegations are true, I find the actions of these jurors—all soldiers in the Army— irresponsible and cowardly. Staff Sergeant Alberto Martinez is a liar, a thief, and a murderer. His jury should have found as much and punished Martinez accordingly.
I wonder, as Phillip’s friends and family grieve his loss this Memorial Day, how will a villain like Staff Sergeant Martinez mark the holiday? Does he grill burgers and hot dogs with his friends and family who are indifferent to his blood-stained soul? Does he hold his children close? Does he even dare speak of his time in Iraq—time spent avoiding his professional responsibility and instead fermenting his wicked plot to murder his commander and his executive officer? Does Martinez even think of Phillip’s daughter, or Lou’s four sons, and the tears and sadness his actions have brought to their lives, on Memorial Day?
I must accept that Alberto Martinez does not think of these things—at least not as a moral person would, for if Martinez were moral, he never would have committed murder in the first place. Instead, he would have performed the tasks assigned to him as his own oath of enlistment demanded, and falling short, he would have accepted his circumstance like a soldier.
Like a soldier. The word conjures up a host of contradictions. The best of America’s soldiers have defended and preserved our constitution and republic through the most trying of times. The worst—well, I don’t have to imagine what the worst have done. I only have to think of Phillip as he lay in his coffin, the innocent victim of unbridled cruelty, to be reminded of what the worst of America’s soldiers have brought to my life.
But on Memorial Day, I will remember my husband Phillip. I will remember his virtue, his honesty, and the love we shared together. Our daughter shall remember Phillip as well, and together, we will recommit ourselves to the brand of justice that says that Phillip’s life mattered, and that in his death, we seek just accountability and reform.