Memorial Day is one of those holidays that seem to welcome warm weather, barbecues, and time with family. For me and many others, Memorial Day also brings up memories of those who are no longer with us because they gave their lives in service to our country. We rely on Memorial Day and Labor Day to bookmark our summer seasons, but for my fellow Marines and me, these two holidays will forever be inextricably connected to what happened on September 4, 2000.
That Labor Day morning, I was serving as an airport firefighter in Yuma, Arizona. Hours before millions of Americans would start firing up their grills, and a year before the twin towers of the World Trade Center would fall, changing our country forever, a sudden event that matched the trauma of 9/11 for those of us involved would occur. This event would not only take a life and destroy careers, but it would ultimately shape my nursing practice in ways I am just recently realizing.
I was the junior Marine on my truck, with a crew of four, having arrived from the fire academy about 3 months earlier. We were eager to quickly check out our trucks as we came on duty that early morning. The airfield was closed because of the holiday, and the quicker we completed our task, the sooner we could start enjoying the relaxing day ahead.
What should have been a routine check of the water pumps in our training area turned into another opportunity for some horseplay with the equipment. I had learned about this culture of horseplay immediately upon my arrival to Yuma—a sergeant instructing me in my driver-operator class shot me in the face with a 250 gallon-per-minute bumper turret and in the groin with a handline. The culture was present that Labor Day morning as I was instructed to spray my roof turret over the other truck that was blocking our path and I did so without hesitation. As I sprayed a nice 500 gallons-per-minute arch of water over their truck, they pulled away, and we had a laugh.
Lance Corporal Daniel Yaklin was the handline operator on my truck. I had just spent the previous weekend hanging out with him and getting to know him. He got out of our truck to test the handline so we could wrap up and head to the fire station. As he did so, the other truck decided to reciprocate and approached us with both turrets spraying. They did not see Yaklin and ran him over with their 17-ton truck. We knew that it was bad as we waited for the ambulance to arrive, and shortly after we returned to the fire station, we got word that he was dead. The pain of that moment will always be with those of us who were involved.
This Memorial Day marks a decade that I have been a registered nurse, and with each passing year that I go online to share memories with fellow Marines on Memorial and Labor Day, we get closer to the 20-year anniversary of Yaklin’s death. In my 10 years of nursing, I have striven for safety and quality in all that I do. At times, it has consumed my energy to almost unhealthy levels. It is just recently as I approach this day and my decade of practice that I realize that in the same way that the two holidays are inseparable, I must be cognizant of how his death and my nursing practice are as well. The inner drive that pushes me to always try to prevent even the smallest of errors and strictly adhere to policy comes from the fear of seeing what can happen in the most extreme of circumstances when policies are not followed, and a mistake happens in the blink of an eye.
It is fitting that I will be celebrating my tenth Memorial Day as a nurse while at work. I will honor Yaklin’s memory by doing my best to provide safe, and quality care but will make a point to find the time to laugh with my co-workers the way I did with Yaklin that weekend before that awful morning. Semper Fi Yaklin!
Jon Templeman is a staff nurse at Our Hospice of South Central Indiana Inpatient Facility in Columbus, Indiana.