In memory of John
One of my best friends passed away a year ago. This was my speech at his funeral. Almost lost it twice. It’s been a year, and I still miss the bastard.
I briefly considered putting these remarks in Powerpoint, figuring John might appreciate the absurdity of it all, but I have a strong desire to not be haunted by him from beyond the grave, so I demurred.
So as I look back on my friendship with John, it’s hard to say he was anything less than passionate about anything he cared about. John had his ideas of what was “right”. John was just very passionate about expressing what was “right”. Zealous — in a good way. To say John was “passionate” about things is like saying race cars are “sort of fast”. It’s insufficient. And John’s passion for being in the thick of the fight led to his interesting and entertaining adventures.
We all know about John’s trips downrange. If you didn’t when you met him, he’d tell you in a few minutes. He was like a pilot, or a CrossFitter in that way. He was deemed medically unfit to join the Army — a dream he’d had from the time he was a little kid. He desperately wanted to get in the game, but bad lungs would have the Army turn him down. And yet, after 9/11 when John found his way to the warzone four separate times, and it was perfectly within the outsized life John lived that he would keep going back.
For people who didn’t know him, you’d try to describe John as a cross between Sheldon Cooper, and Skippy (of Skippy’s List fame) and while that’s a close as you can get for someone who didn’t know him, it’s woefully insufficient. He was a nerd and he was a warrior and it was fun to be around. So you try telling a story about John to illustrate the character he was. And as much as anything else, it’s the stories of John that will live on.
We all have these stories about John. And I daresay we’ve all got a good half dozen or more, and maybe only 2–3 of them overlap with anyone else here, even if several of us were present.
And as much as anything else, it’s the stories of John that will live on.
When we tell them to anyone who didn’t know John, the looks we get are a mixture of laughter and disbelief. And even if you were there for the story, you’re never really sure just how much if might have been exaggerated over time, such was the legend of John.
There’s John laying into a guy at the airport for cutting in line, with a calm, but clearly menacing voice for the guy to back away.
Putting a dent in the conference room wall throwing a dray erase marker while arguing over why a certain piece of code wasn’t working “right”… and then hitting the exact same spot 3 minutes later when throwing another one.
Making multiple wrong turns trying to take a “shortcut” back to his place, and ending up in the parking lot of Millbrook High and joking about warding off cheerleaders with french fries.
2AM phone calls from Iraq arguing over the correct map symbol for a donkey-borne IED.
The lunchtime D&D game, when John was told that his elven hero couldn’t 3 shots off at point blank range against a dragon and him exclaiming without a hint of irony “c’mon, that’s not realistic!”
Trying to play catch at a park and throwing a football into his own foot hard enough that he had to limp over to the bench and sit down for 10 minutes.
The time a speaker at the C4ISR conference at George Mason University made a remark about building services at the forward edge of the battle… and beyond(!) John had to leave because he couldn’t stop giggling over the idea of “beyond” meaning we were building services for the enemy.
Watching John take the time to build the perfect lunch bowl at Crazy Fire, and before he could tell the cook about his peanut allergy, the cook just tossed it on the grill with everything. John didn’t say a word and just left and grabbed drive thru food on the way back to the office.
The Super Bowl Party where he was describing some incredibly complex algorithm they developed downrange for predicting the next several IED attacks, but where Shelli had to show him how to open the tongs.
Trying to figure out exactly how to reconcile the “no fraternization” rules downrange with the fact that the shoppette sold flavored massage oils.
And the fact that I completely made up one of those stories, and you don’t know which one, just tells you how ridiculous all those classic John stories are.
It’s going to be impossible to fill that void of the obsessive, idiosyncratic crank that we all hated at times but ultimately respected, admired, and loved for everything he gave. The closest we will get is telling our favorite stories of John, and if we just start going around the room right now, we might not finish before Tuesday.
But beyond those stories — that are unbelievable to those who didn’t know him — was a man of selfless courage. For a kid who was rejected by the army, he stepped forward when many were stepping away. His work with a rag tag bunch of coders helped hold back bad men who would do harm to American soldiers. And for years those brave men and women who were able to come home, in some part because of the work this asthmatic nerd did sitting on a FOB downrange. Folks came home to their families thanks to John working tirelessly on adrenaline and caffeine to help serve our nation.
“What are the Verbs?” was the classic John question in any meeting.
As a friend, John lives on in our hearts. In the way he inspired us to stop talking about things and start doing them. “What are the Verbs?” was the classic John question in any meeting. He lives on in the memory of his passion for doing the things he loved — playing video games with Tripp, watching nerdy TV with Kat and wandering outdoors with Knight. And trying to help smart people solve tough problems.
But like a warrior from history he will live on in legend. Those here today will sit with their tribe and tell the tales of Szucs — the marker-throwing asthmatic nerd who went to war four times. A man who came back with his shield and not on it.
He’s going to live on these outlandish tales we will continue to tell about him, believable only to those who know that yes, he really was just that crazy.
We will laugh as we rejoice in his memory and we will shed a tear he isn’t with us to remind us that we missed a part. And we will love him for it forever.