(*Post and discuss a significant picture you’ve taken)
In Memory of Captain Jonathan C. Bayless, USAF
This past Saturday, I got some distressing news – the death of a friend.
Not a recent death, but a death nonetheless.
The death itself took place four years ago. My friend, Kari, and I were never told. I won’t bore you with the details of all the relationship dynamics – they are, sadly, too complicated for one little blog – but suffice it to say Kari and I just assumed he was no longer talking to her, and by extension me, for all these years. It wasn’t completely out of left field. My cousin, also in this crazy mix, had recently stopped talking to us. My aunt was no longer talking to Kari, and on the fence about talking to me. What was one more person? Yet when Jon suddenly stopped communicating, it was a little bit surprising, because he didn’t seem the type. We explored a whole host of possible reasons why – he was angry, he was in a new relationship, he was playing Super Secret Secret Squirrel. Death never crossed our minds.
But death it was.
In the past few days, I’ve been trying to research his death on the internet, only to find it come up on numerous conspiracy theory websites. That just makes it harder to process. His body was found in a field north of a soccer complex in Minot, North Dakota. The cause of death – unclear.
I’m generally not one for conspiracy theories, but it did start to unnerve me. Jon was a missile combat crew commander at Minot AFB. He was on active duty there in 2007, when there was a bent spear incident in which nuclear warheads were mistakenly transported and left unguarded for 36 hours. The incident set off a chain of forced resignations…and peculiar deaths.
Another round of peculiar deaths happened in 2009. Six individual fatal accidents in seven days. All airmen. All involved. Jon was the sixth.
I feel sick just thinking about it. Was it just an accident? Or did he know it was coming? Was he all alone? The lack of answers only brings a lack of closure.
Jon is now buried on USAFA grounds, just a few miles from Kari’s house in Colorado Springs. She recently visited his marker, and then snapped this photo.
Looking at this photo, I can’t make the sadness go away. Jon is now reduced to a mere plaque, in the ground, hidden. Jon has quietly just disappeared.
You may be wondering what this has to do with Bosnia.
I was looking over my Sarajevo photos today, and I came across some of nearby shaheed cemeteries.
I just can’t help but suddenly see the contrast. These Bosniaks gave their lives in a very visible conflict. Their graves are very upright, conspicuous, and just there…begging for attention. There is no missing them. There is no dismissing them.
Even when looking at panoramas of Sarajevo, you see clusters of graves everywhere. All standing. All together.
I’m not sure exactly how cemetery design reflects community culture, but I’m pretty sure that it does. In this case, I stand behind the Bosniak community and the shaheed fighters. They fought together, they died together, and they remain together. The Bosniaks proudly, openly recognize their dead. That makes me feel as though their cause is somehow more just, more honorable…that it deserves more than just an inconspicuous little marker in the ground.
And I now appreciate that even more.
Before ending this post, I want to say that it was a challenge to find Jon’s obituary on the internet. When I finally did, it was a small military posting, and therefore somewhat cold. Kari has since written one that better captures Jon. Excerpts follow.
What You Should Know about Jon
Jonathan Christopher Bayless was born on Christmas Eve to two parents who loved the beach. While I don’t know much about his time in high school, I know he must have been smart and was a talented singer, as he received a recommendation to attend the Air Force Academy. Not only did he have a voice, but an ear for music. While I can’t say for sure, I’ll bet his best memories were scuba diving in the Cayman Islands. He studied English at the USAFA, and joked that he had a BS in English. He was also a talented pilot, who made the cut for fighter pilot training.
Jon went to pilot training in Enid, Oklahoma a Godforsaken place that feels like wind and smells like loneliness. He was doing well when his father passed away, suddenly, as a result of his alcoholism. [At the funeral] there must have been more than 600 visitors who told Jon how proud his father was of him, which is something I don’t think he had ever heard directly from his father.
After his father’s death, Jon realized that life is short and he didn’t want to spend his flying fighter planes, he just wanted to read and write. Instead of pushing him into one of the six journalist-type positions available in the Air Force or Tops in Blue, the vocal ensemble, he was reassigned to missile duty and moved to California.
Even though the Air Force had made his life difficult on numerous occasions, he made it to work every day. He ironed and starched his uniform every morning before work. He followed the rules.
I guess there’s a reason I don’t write obituaries, because this is long and drawn out. But what I wanted to say, and what I wished the world would hear, was that Jon was a very kind person who had an enormous heart. He was and is loved and left footprints on the Earth. He was honest and kind, and died too soon.
You would have liked him. And he would have loved you.