"I'm sorry I must leave, but I must do what is asked of me by my God, my Country, and my Corps.. and so, the war blog begins, again." ~B

26 June 2009

Arlington West

One of my favorite novels is In Country by Bobbie Ann Mason. It is set ten years or so on from the Vietnam War and is told from the perspective of a teenage girl who lost her father there. She is coming into adulthood struggling not only with who she is, but how she is defined by this event in her past. Part of its appeal is that I recognize the setting. It could be the community where I am from. I could know the characters personally. But I also enjoy it because it is a nontraditional war novel. Its protagonist is not a soldier, yet she has had the war define her life. It has seeped into the fibers of her very being. She can relate to the war vets she interacts with, but processes the war in a very different way. She isn't one of them, yet is on a similar journey with them. She struggles to understand this thing that has so touched her life- what its meaning is, how she truly fits in, how she can make sense of it and move on, or at least forward.

Towards the end of the book, she piles her assorted and estranged family members into their vehicle and they head to the newly dedicated Vietnam Wall. She seeks solace and answers from it, as if this object can bring her closure and peace. It is something she feels she must do, the next step in her journey.

The book doesn't answer her questions, it is left open to interpretation what she finds there. But one passage struck me as I reread it recently. It begins as Sam stands looking upon the Wall for the first time: "Sam doesn't understand what she is feeling, but it is something so strong, it is like a tornado moving in her, something massive and overpowering."

I recently had the chance to visit the Arlington West memorial at Santa Monica Pier. I don't know when the powers that be will get around to building a memorial for our war, but this is a suitable stand in.

I was worried that there might be a political slant that would tarnish it for me. Though the organization that sponsers the display certainly takes a side, the memorial itself did not. It simply counted the fallen.

The memorial is located right alongside the Pier. This is a place of fun and beauty, the shrieks of rollercoaster riders mixing with the oohs and ahhs of the crowd watching the trapeze act do their thing. The smell of salt lingers in the breeze as the calls of the sea gulls are swallowed by the sounds of the sea. There is a steady beat from the band playing on the main stage at the barbeque festival. And yet here is this place of solemnity amongst it all. It has a power to it, evoking the "tornado" of emotion on many levels. It hurts, but then it should.

Seeing the crosses lined up in rows, the flag-draped coffins respresenting the most recent casualties, is a real gut check. The magnitude and scope of the loss of life cannot be denied. I could not help but think of how many were left hurting by the loss of each one. Sometimes it is easy to forget that the cross is just a symbol. Each one of them is one man or one woman. They had virtues and vices. They had friends and family. They had accomplishments that sit in a scrapbook or picture albumn somewhere. They are quite simply gone. It was Mothers Day, and quite a few mothers were there, telling the stories of their sons.

I brought photos and sought out the names on the panels there that mean something to me. One gentleman- I wish I had thought to get his name- helped me locate them in the book. He also helped me leave messages there for my guys, and put a silver star on them to indicate they were left by a friend. He was very kind and he provided me with a hug when I needed it. I wish I could thank him by name because what they are doing is important. I may not agree with all the groups' aims, but this man is standing vigil. I respect that.

After I was finished, I took a walk along the beach, simply watching the ocean. I'm not sure that I found the answers I was looking for there. I didn't have the capstone moment of closure I half expected to have. But I did feel like I took a step forward on my journey.

19 June 2009

Truth, Lessons, and Deployment

"Men who for truth and honor's sake
Stand fast and suffer long.
Brave men who work while others sleep,
Who dare while others fly...
They build a nation's pillars deep
And lift them to the sky." ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

I am a big believer in family. I believe that sometimes you must supplement the family you are born into with a family you create for yourself.

Official notification has come. It is only a matter of time now. My best friend, my brother, is headed back to the battlefield. Deployment: Part 2 is inevitable.

With this notification comes a slew of emotions that come in stages. Relief- because it was going to happen eventually and now at least there is a time frame. Anxiety- because here we go again. Resignation- because it is going to happen, there is no denying that. Acceptance- it is happening. Fear- What if... Preparation- take each moment, each memory, and guard it jealously.

Deployment orders call for a moment of reflection.

I have volunteered in various capacities with military support organizations since the start of operations in Iraq. I have met incredible people. I have seen my best friends off to war. Some have not come home. I would not change any of it. One does not become closely associated with the military without learning a few things.

One of those things is the value of friendship. In the military family, things are compressed. Time, experience is compressed. Sending a loved one off to war is a daunting task. You must say the things you've been meaning to. You are made to see the value in each day, each moment, each hour, even each minute. Life, Death, Mortality-- the range of human emotion is there in the last seconds of a phone call from Germany, when the next communication will be from the Middle East. When the anxiety finally eases, when the plane touches down after 8 months or 12 months, these are not things you forget. Each moment after a safe deployment is a blessing. Each casual conversation. Each movie watched in silence.

As we start this new journey, remember I am proud of you, I am behind you, I value our friendship. You are family and I love you for it.

We are not afforded the luxury of taking things for granted.

The unknown is in the what ifs, and the sentences left unfinished after every reassurance. Before deployment....each moment really must be made to count.