Sunday, May 29, 2005

. . . and the familes.

I got an email recently that took me to task for taking too lighthearted a view of war and military service. The writer seemed to feel that by not dwelling on death and fear and horror, I was leaving a false impression of how combat was. I didn't think too much about it at the time - his main point seemed to be that, by not making my experiences seem terrible, I might actually encourage someone else to join up. I've already mentioned in this blog that I wasn't one of those who paid a heavy price for my service, and I do want to encourage others to do their duty as citizens - if they decide that duty includes military service, then I want to applaud that decision and not discourage it. I thought about the email again, though, as Memorial Day approached. And everyone should know that, for all that I sometimes make light of my experiences in combat, there are people who have paid dearly for the things that we sometimes take for granted in this country.

Maybe all soldiers in combat don't pay a heavy price, but some do, and every family of a combat soldier does. The wives and husbands, sons and daughters, mothers and fathers, spend their days living with the dread of seeing the Army staff car pull up into the yard. Every news report of casualties - a rocket attack in Ghazni, a suicide bomber in Baghdad - hangs over them, day and night, until the names are released. Was it him? Was he on the chopper, in the HMMWV, on the patrol that got ambushed? And when a soldier does go down, he pays the "last full measure of devotion" then and there. For the family, the butcher's bill is presented on the installment plan. The family pays with every missed birthday, every question from the young child, "When is Daddy coming home?", every lonely night with an empty bed serving as a perpetual memorial, every pang of loss down through the years.

In the town where I live, every Memorial Day, Main Street and the town square are lined with plain white wooden crosses about three feet high, each surmounted with a small US flag, and each with the name and war of a local son who died in one of America's foreign wars. Even though it's a small town, we have enough war dead to line both sides of several miles of road with crosses spaced 20' or so apart. Family names common in the area leap out as you drive by, reminders of sacrifices gone by and pain still remembered.

And sometimes that pain goes on for many long years. We have another Memorial Day tradition here: Every year, there's a commemorative gathering in the town square, usually in the week before Memorial Day so that the middle school can attend. There are speakers on the meaning of the day, usually military and political figures, and an invocation by one of the local preachers. Then the Honor Roll of fallen heroes is read, and it takes a while. Family members sometimes step forward and read the name of their loved one, and occasionally share a memory. I try to attend whenever I can, out of respect for the fallen and their families.

One year, not too many years ago, an old, old woman was seated behind the lectern, sitting in her weelchair, but dressed in her "Sunday best." She had been brought from the local nursing home to participate in the ceremony that day as one of the family members who came to remember their dead. She was frail, and on oxygen, and she struggled to stand when the time came to read the name of her lost soldier. She told us that when she was a little girl, her father had gone away to fight in World War I. She remembered lying in bed at night and taking comfort in hearing his footsteps, solid and heavy, as he walked down the hall to his bedroom. One night, after she had gone to bed, she heard his footsteps in the hall for the last time. He came into her room that night and told her that he was leaving for France, that he had to go away for awhile, and that he loved her very much. He never came back. He died in the Meuse-Argonne. As a little girl, she said, all the while he was gone, and even after she learned that he was dead, she would listen for his footsteps in the hall. And now, she told us, as she lived out her last days alone in a nursing home, after a lifetime of tending her family and raising her children, she would still sometimes try to catch the sound of his footsteps as she went to sleep. A long and full lifetime later, longer and richer than most, she still missed her father and, at times, wept for his loss. And she wept then, as she read his name.


Blogger Jack said...

Thank you for this, it is both well written and powerful.

7:33 AM  
Anonymous Zach said...

That brought tears to my eyes.
THere's nothing more I can say about that post.

8:25 AM  
Blogger VW said...

Thank you.

11:33 AM  
Blogger Papa Ray said...


Papa Ray
West Texas

11:50 AM  
Anonymous Dave K. from Tucson said...

Very touching story- thanks for sharing. We should never forget the sacrifices given for our freedom and our way of life.

I also think humor is a good way of dealing with situations that would otherwise be unendurable. It can armor the mind to endure far more than what might otherwise be possible....just look at the movie It's a Beautiful Life by Roberto Benigni. Anyway, to share a humorous story of what's going on in a war zone to me is another way of staying strong and offering resistance to that which can drag one's spirits down. The cause is noble; one must endure.

8:39 PM  
Anonymous Kristy said...

Thank you for that beautiful post. May God grant our fallen warriors honored repose. I’d also like to thank you and all of the active duty and retired military people who read this blog for your service.

I disagree with the person who criticized you for not focusing on the gruesome aspects of war. When my brothers and sister and I were growing up, friends from my father’s service days would occasionally drop by to visit. We used to love listening to them talk about the funny or poignant or exciting things that happened on the various bases or on deployment. They never dwelt on any of the uglier experiences of war. They spoke of fallen comrades with respect and affection, and we certainly understood, without explicit instruction, that taking up arms to defend the nation is hazardous and that gory things occur when human bodies come into contact with weapons. I think the current insistence by some on body counts and bloody pictures is likely motivated by anti-war sentiment, and is promulgated by people who can’t imagine making such a sacrifice themselves.

9:05 PM  
Blogger Jody said...

A beautiful and well written post. Thank you. (I'll be sending others your way.)

9:10 PM  
Blogger Watch 'n Wait said...

Wonderful post. I've gone up to the tip of Point Loma where the Rosecrans Nat'l Cemetery is, walked among those silent crosses and hated that we'd never hear those voices again.

10:12 PM  
Blogger jbrookins said...

Here the thing bro, people have been hurting each other since the beginning of time. We can handle it and we don't all see the negative in hard times. I just get tired of the doom and gloom and how we are all traumatized. We are not. The Marines who took Falujah are not, the Seals in A-Stan are not, and most I know are not. While some will have a hard time the fact is we are resiliant and can handle this and much more and we better realize more is coming.

Good post as usual though.

7:41 PM  
Blogger Yankee Tech in Germany said...

Wow, I just am at a loss for words, that was above and beyond. Great post, with an even better message, when they are gone, they will Never be forgotten.

7:36 AM  
Blogger AFSister said...

My first time here... many thanks to Matt (B5) for directing me here.

Wonderful post... and I just love the story about the older lady. Fantastic. Sounds and smells make just as much of an impression as sights do. I can still remember the sound of my Grandpa's car on gravel. It's a comforting sound, and it always calms me.

2:38 PM  
Anonymous 11thacr said...

Good Post as usual. And as soldiers we do take some things for granted. I know that in Combat you cannot Fear Death..or it will come upon you.....It's in the Mind of the Soldier where Fear lies and he must conquer it. The Free will never understand.

4:50 PM  
Blogger remoteman said...

Wonderful post. Thanks so much. The story of the woman missing her father hit home. My brother died suddenly four years ago and I know it still hits his two kids all the time, even though they were small when it happened.

My hat is off to you and all of the other members of our Armed Forces.

7:46 PM  
Blogger militarybrat said...

That was by far one of the most moving things i have ever read. You are an amazing writer.

I have several freinds in group and i know that Sf cannot do the job our country asks by focusing on gloom and doom.

You don't have to focus your blog on the sacrafices made, you live them every day. So thank you for what you do. Tell your teammates thankyou . It is the job you guys do that makes this military one that i serve so proudly in.

No one knows more the sacrafices made in combat than 11s or 18s

You guys are willing to give your lives for your comrades for pennies while "we" sit at home eating bons bons and telling you how to better please "us" with what you write.

You are an amazing writer, doubtless and even better soldier.
Your attitude has been an inspiration to me while serving in tough times. In fact whenever the military asks me to do something i am not quite sure i can do, i look to "you guys" (my infantry freinds and long tabbers) for inspiration.

Some of your blog specifically has been very inspirational to me. But most importantly....Having freinds who are young aspiring 11bs, in this horror filled war, and combat stressed military....i know for a fact your words have been an even bigger inspiration to them, As they have pointed out this site to me. It is a very very very important thing for some of those young guys to be able to laugh at their find humor in it give them that. They are too tough to ever admit it like that to you... but i see it in what they say as a freind of there's. Unless you are a "sf baby" you know what i mean. So think long and hard before you consider changing your style.

So whatever you write about .....thankyou

& take care o' you and your team there alpha

11:08 PM  
Blogger Shady Sam said...

I'm speachless. (Since this is not a visual medium I needed to write that.)
We need both humor and Memorial Days to handle the horrors of war. Well expressed

11:34 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good stuff. Keep it going.

There is nothing wrong with being patriotic. Its much better then talking the talk and then not walking the walk. There is always going to be the anti-war lobby where people think fighting is nasty and don't want to do it. I suppose we need those sorts of people, but not in a majority otherwise we will end up as an occupied country.

So...shout from the houses all you like (to the anti-war lobby), shout about the lack of WMD. You wouldn't be shouting anymore if the unthinkable happened.

Just recently a soldiers family in the UK tried to bring legal action against the Ministry Of Defence for the loss of their son during combat in Iraq. Whilst I am grateful for their & his sacrifice and am sympathetic to their emotions at this time, isn't it just crazy? The soldier chose to be patriotic and chose to join the army. He then had to do what he was paid for and unfortunately was a casualty. God rest his sole.

2:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great story. Along with Zach, it brought a tear to my eye. God Bless America.

4:01 AM  

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