“Paw-Paw and Meema were buried side by side in their graves at the Palms cemetery. They would have wanted it that way because they were partners in life, after all, and isn’t it oh so cozy and romantic?” I’ve heard this sentiment expressed more than just a couple of times and I’ve seen it as well—the interment of family members and lovers close together, representative of eternal love and commitment. It’s just a gesture for the living, you see. It means absolutely squat to the departed.

Some of the more than 6,100 gravestones at the Srebrenica-Potočari Memorial 

“We’re making an excursion!” Barticus shouted over the wop-wop of Blackhawk rotor blades. I just nodded in an exaggerated fashion without even asking where. I didn’t have to. “The boss wants to see one of the mass graves at Srebrenica!” I understood; there were mass graves dotting the Bosnian countryside following the ceasefire in 1996. I knew they were all around, but had neither the time nor interest in ever visiting. Mass graves are just not places of the visiting sort.

Wall of names at the Srebrenica Genocide Memorial

As the news spread, the guys began fidgeting in their seats. I pulled a video camera from my bag and held it up. “I’ll record the event!” Exaggerated nods were returned. Barticus, who had relayed the plan change to our chopper, had been to Bosnia before. He pulled a tube of toothpaste from his travel backpack. He put a dollop on a finger. I calculated that he was going to give his teeth a finger brush.

“Gotta have nice, minty breath for the dead, eh Barticus?” I cracked irreverently. Barticus looked up at me but proceeded to smear it on his upper lip just beneath his nose. He passed it around the chopper. Veterans of Bosnia did the same and the rest of us followed suit. We all looked ridiculous, I must say. I began to chuckle and grin to the boys on the bird. Barticus just looked at me with no expression, a thing that made me instantly uneasy.

More words are often spoken with a closed mouth and open eyes.

Our chopper put the hammer down and passed the chopper to our front—the one with the general in it. It was our policy to never take the boss to a cold-call location. Without an advance party waiting at Srebrenica, we would at least dash out ahead and get men on the ground to receive him.