I have found that combat veterans make the best friends. They give this sense that they are always there walking by our side, even when they are not. They are always ready to have our backs.

Sylvester “Cobby” Cobb, local photographer and teacher who died June 10, 2013 at the age of 83, was that way for me and so many others in our community. I associate Memorial Day weekend with him, and dread the absence this year of our flurry of phone calls and regular visit.

Cobby was a proud Navy man who convinced his mom to let him sign up at 17 in 1947. He said he remembered seeing the servicemen come and go during World War II and couldn’t wait for his chance to serve. If he could have been signed in any younger, he would have.

He was a photographer for the Navy, serving active duty in Korea and Vietnam. His assignments were to photograph or film “things of interest” to the military and federal government.

Cobby told me once about crashing behind enemy lines in Vietnam. Two choppers went in together and had completed the mission. On the return trip, both choppers were shot down. I asked him what he was thinking as he was falling. His eyes grew distant as he time-traveled in his mind. “I was gripping my camera tightly to protect it and praying that I got the picture.” He said he was hoping that, even if he died, the camera would be recovered and the film used for its intended purpose.

That kind of discipline, loyalty, pride and desire to serve — the traits that made him such a great friend — were traits honed during military service.

In recent years, Memorial Day weekend made him increasingly emotional. Hairs of circumstance kept Cobby from being one of the fallen he honored with his fellow American Legionnaires. The older he got, the more he appreciated the gift of each day. He cherished his wife Mary, family and friendships, especially the ones developed with staff and students as a substitute teacher. He honored the sacrifices of his peers by living life to its fullest.

Combat veterans carry a unique, exquisitely painful burden. They have had to witness and participate in some of the worst of humanity’s inhumanity toward itself. They do so with the noble intent to protect our country and innocent citizens of the world. They have to carry this heavy burden back with them. The load is inscribed with the names of soldiers who paid the ultimate price. It is a load that veterans never get to put down.

Cobby and I were friends for just under three decades, although it felt like Cobby had always been there, by my side. Time before I knew him was just time I didn’t know he was there. It’s sort of like time now, since he passed, and I can’t see him anymore, but I still sense he is somehow by my side.

Patricia Callahan is a mother of two who lives and works in Augusta.