Veteran’s day essay
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It’s said that “you don’t know unless you’ve done it”. In most cases this isn’t exactly one hundred percent right. An example would be a painful and destructive marriage. Though this essay will not have reached print by the time Veteran’s Day is through, the sentiment remains. The life of a warrior is a unique one. Since I can only speak for myself, or relate stories told me first hand that is what I’ll do here. I’ll share three stories, quickly, and they each encompass what it really means to the individual warrior to be that warrior.
I was on Air Alert for the Marines when the Rwandan genocide happened. Air Alert Marines are the ones that go on the moment’s notice to wherever in the world the President says to go. Mr. Clinton was my CIC, and he said to stop the genocide. I had one last hot meal on base and was to report to the battalion HQ. On the TV there was news of the happenings in this small African nation. I was a little scared after I was told I was leaving. Then a funny thing happened while I was watching the TV. I got mad. Really mad. The echoes of the phrase “Never again” and flashes of films like the “Killing Fields” and “Schindler’s list” came to the fore. I thought to myself, “This is why I joined”. And I said so to my Mom, during our brief phone call. She was crying, of course, and cursed Clinton from here to there. I told her that I was not her child anymore, but a warrior. I had made a promise to defend the People wherever they may be oppressed. If that freedom meant I’d lose a limb or my life that was a sacrifice I was very willing to give. On the tarmac at Cherry Point, fully loaded down with war gear, we were recalled at the last minute. We would not be going in. We would not be stopping the slaughter of these people. Again, I got mad. That was precisely the reason many of us had joined this particular branch of the service! That is a decision he regrets to this day, so I hear.
After 911 I sought to rejoin. My old contract had expired and I hadn’t been recalled to active duty. Thinking aloud at work over my decision my co-workers asked me why? You have a job, and a family, and a place… why? Why would I go halfway around the world to fight for a cause not of my own, risking my life in the process. My answer, as it always tends to be, was simple:
“So they won’t have to.”
Finally, my uncle was a machine gunner in Vietnam. I never really asked him much about it, and he doesn’t speak of it. None of the friends he made, nothing of his exploits. He doesn’t like to revisit those days, and no one pushes him to. After decades he went to D.C. to the wall. He found the names, found the panels, and we left him alone. Standing at a distance, he broke down. He lost it right then and there. On the ride back I’d asked if he was ok. His response was, “No Robert, but they are now.”
I suppose the basic premise of it all is the weight of the burden the men and women bear for you and me. It can never truly be described and done justice to. No words can befit the entirety of it all. No amount of college money can assuage, no amount of flags, or apple pie, or parades, or any of the things one would consider to be patriotic. The most one can do, if one truly loves the warriors that guard us, is to earn the honor. Earn that which they’ve sacrificed for. And so, dearest reader, live that life! Say a quick thanks to the skinny wrinkled old man wearing the Vietnam vet baseball cap. Because that old man was once a strong, hard, young one who never got a thanks, but had been through literal Hell. Exalt in that which you’ve been granted because it was not free. It was earned, and so you must follow through on the life. You must live for them.
So be honorable, as they were,
Live with courage, because none of us, regardless of our race, creed, or religion, come from fearful people.
Be strong when all others around you falter, because they were.
Live with integrity because, in the end, your word is all you have.
And finally, Lead by example, because that is what they did.
So I say thank you to my Grampa, Dad, two uncles, my friends, my cousins, and all the others that I don’t personally know, “Thank you”.