As far as I know, Paul Bartz never hunted turkeys.
At least he hadn’t when we attended college together. Of course, neither had I. It was 1985, and turkeys were seemingly exotic creatures from the Deep South. I was an enthusiastic but bumbling duck hunter and deer hunter, and Paul was just a nice kid who lived in my dormitory and worked with me in the campus dishroom. He was a freshman when I was a sophomore, and he roomed with a good friend of mine. Turns out we’d grown up fairly close to each other, and we turned that common ground into a friendship. That school year, we watched some football, probably threw a baseball around and drank a beer or two together. Now and then, he’d kid me about my hunting forays.
We kept in touch throughout college. During my final year, I was interning at a local newspaper, and Paul was an avid member of the Army ROTC. He’d really become serious about it, and I was impressed by how much he’d grown in four years.
After college, our paths diverged, and I didn’t talk with Paul for 21 years.
Lt. Col. Paul Bartz was killed May 18, 2010, in Afghanistan by a suicide bomber who targeted a NATO convoy. Paul was 43. After graduation, he had swiftly moved up the Army ranks, worked with NATO troops, been assigned to the Pentagon and attended meetings with the president.
You’re probably wondering what this has to do with turkeys and turkey hunting. Not much, really.
Unless, of course, you remember that turkey hunting is just one of many freedoms we enjoy and take for granted in this country.
“When we walk along a hardwood ridge, cast a call into a deep hollow and hear a resounding gobble in response, we are among the most free and privileged folks in the world.”
I wrote that days after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. But in the almost nine years from then until Paul’s death, I’d probably forgotten the importance of the sentiments I had tried to express. And honestly, the impact of that event had likely diminished somewhat. When you’re treated to peace and prosperity, it’s easy to drift into apathy. As daily life grinds on, or we’re caught up with deadlines or even trying to find a gobbling turkey, we don’t see or appreciate the big picture. Most of us are guilty of that, I guess.
But when I read of Paul’s death — after a morning of turkey hunting — it knocked some sense back into me. I’ve enjoyed a career based on a leisure activity; privileges not shared by most folks across the globe. Paul had built —and gave —his life defending the principles that make those freedoms possible. Man, does that bring everything into focus. We are blessed to hunt turkeys, or just express opinions or practice our own brand of religion.
I’ll remember that more this fall and next spring. I’ll probably think about Paul, too, and the many other folks who sacrificed everything to protect our way of life.
Forgive me for quoting my own stuff again, but another paragraph I wrote in 2001 seems to ring truer now:
“When that first longbeard booms from his roost this spring, I know I’ll appreciate it more; for the chance to experience the truly beautiful things in the world; for the way of life that allows such liberties; and especially for the people who died (on 9/11) — and for those who will assuredly die in the coming months defending this free land.”