Saturday, November 10, 2007

Celebrating Veteran's Day in Iraq

“These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.”

—Thomas Paine


Last night I dreamed about our youngest daughter, Josslyn. I dreamt I was working in an office building; I wore a white shirt and tie, the same business attire as the other men there wore. Our jovial, happy baby that will soon turn two-years-old, played in the office space—running, hiding and giggling. I picked her up in my arms but she didn’t look at me or hug me, instead when I set her back on the floor she took off running and playing. She didn’t recognize me. I supposed it was because I wore the same clothes as every other male there and, of course, because I will have been away at war for nearly half of her life.

The transition back home will have such unique challenges, but for now I don’t have to worry about that. It will be a long, long time until I’m home again for good.

I hate being here. War is repulsive. I never thought it would be so hard. But this has been the biggest challenge of my life. Fear, anger, frustration, depression, grief, loss, and in short, all the ill feelings humans can experience are intensified a hundred fold for those in war. And, everyone experiences things differently.

This is my own private Mount Everest, a grandiose challenge of trial and trouble. It is something no one else can understand or experience except those who’ve faced the darkened cauldron, the refiner’s fire. Unless you’ve walked in my shoes, you can never really understand. I find myself ignoring anyone who would suggest that my trials aren’t that hard or that I should just ‘cheer up’ if they have not done what I’ve done or experienced what I’ve experienced. I’ve noticed my normally cheerful disposition and perpetually optimistic attitude waning. Looking back, I wonder if I have had a Pollyanna-like ignorance of real horrors, struggles and stresses. I’ve cried myself to sleep more than once.

As a kid Veteran's Day had little meaning. My great-grandfather served in WWI, but he died before I could remember him. My grandfather had served in WWII. I liked when he told me stories of how he was an ‘expert’ pistol shooter. I wish he were alive so I could thank him and jest that shooting well must be a genetically inherited trait. (I’ve won several tactical shooting awards among the best shooters in military and law enforcement.)

His son, my Uncle Jerry, graduated from West Point and served as a career Army officer. All I knew is he lived far away, rarely made it home for family reunions, and kept moving his family every few years. Later, I learned that my Great Uncle on my Dad’s side suffered deprivations, humiliations and even torture after Japanese soldiers captured him in the Philippine Islands shortly after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. He was held as a P.O.W. in Taiwan for nearly a decade. In retrospect, even though I heard the stories, I was completely oblivious to every feeling and meaning of Veteran's Day.

A man once said, “Freedom will look easy by and by when no one dies to get it.”

A close Army buddy of mine was killed last week. I’ve cried and wept about it on and off over the last few days. Several of us who knew him well have exchanged emails and stories. My wife knew all my Army teammates. She’ll never—ever—forget the day she met John.

My wife wrote to me yesterday about the death of my friend, saying, “It makes me very sad and afraid. You and I both feel like things will be safe with you but I have to wonder, all it takes is one time. Kinda like when the guys died in [Gaza] it made it so much more real to me. What would I do? My whole world would fall apart. I just don’t know that I could ever recover. It makes it so real to have someone we know die that way... I pray that all will be well. Love you tons! Stay safe!”

I tried to comfort her by telling her how safe I am. We are winning in Anbar. After she sent that note, I wondered if I should have even told her.

No one understands war until it hits close to home. Believe me, Veteran's Day means something to me now.

1 comment:

fighting75th said...

Happy Veteran's Day Brother! You are a constant inspiration to me and I strive to be a better person because of you. I pray for you every day and know you are not alone...God Bless you man, and from soldier to soldier, Thank you for your sacrifices, your service, and dedication to our country! HOOAH~Jorge