"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

27 March 2010

Seven Years

“For all his attention to my historical education, my father had neglected to tell me that history’s terrible moments were real. I understand now, decades later, that he could have never told me. Only history itself can convince you of the truth. And once you’ve seen the truth — really seen it — you can’t look away.” from The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova pg. 37

Recently, the 7th year of the war in Iraq passed, with some, but little reflection. I have been thinking about it since then.

I have been thinking about how long seven years really is. About how long 9 years in Afghanistan is. I have been thinking about all the things I have done in those years and all the ways I have grown and changed. It occurs to me that we are creeping up on something that is rather disturbing. My country has been at war almost half of my life.

Some people say that our war, the GWOT or OEF/OIF, whatever you want to call it, isn't like past wars. We have a voluntary military and a smaller percentage of people serve. It is true that people perhaps have less of a connection to the military and its actions than in the past. It is true that we, the protected, do not ration our gasoline or produce. It is easier to forget about what is going on far away, if you want to.

But what has struck me the past few weeks is just how much a part of our lives the war has become. Among my peers, it has become woven into the fabric of our lives. Maybe that is abnormal. Perhaps it is more a reflection on small-to-medium town USA. But at least for some, it is the truth.

I was at work when a moment of powerful recognition hit me. I was standing around with my coworkers, most of whom are close to my age. I work with a former high school classmate of mine and we were talking about mutual acquaintances. We started talking about someone we both knew who is serving in Afghanistan. That led to updates on other people we know who are in the service, and where they are and what they are doing. I have a friend in Ramadi and my coworker remarked that they knew someone who spent some time there. About six or seven of our other coworkers wandered into the conversation and we all compared notes on friends and family, high school buddies, and friends of friends who are serving or have served in Iraq or Afghanistan. We talked about those we knew of who had been wounded and those from our hometown who had been killed. Someone mentioned that we needed a memorial for our war, like there is downtown for Vietnam.

Then the conversation drifted to other things like new movies, music, and if the economy would ever get better so we could find better jobs.

The moment of recognition came before that though. It came when we noticed we had an audience. Five of our coworkers, including our two supervisors, had stopped what they were doing, gathered together, and were listening to us talk. They were all older and grew up after Vietnam and before 9/11. They were staring at us kind of funny. One finally said, "You guys say that like it is so normal. You say, M spent some time there, like Iraq is Florida or something. You just transitioned from Iraq and Afghanistan to a show at the place and the merits of the newest Twilight movie without pause. Like it is just another part of your day to discuss which of your friends are over there."

I guess we did. We transitioned from updating each other on friends and family at war to the other general topics you discuss with people you work with. It was just another thing, just another part our lives, to have friends fighting a war someplace sandy. After all, my best friend is on round two-Afghan Style. By now, so many people I know have joined the service, gone overseas, come home, gone back, come home, gone back, come home, got out or reupped that it is kind of normal.

The war is something we have learned to live with.

The idea that some people, somewhere, wish us harm is something that has almost become normal.

There is something sad about that.

There is that old saying, I think it is a curse, "May you live in interesting times." It seems my peers and I do live in interesting times. We have seen life changing moments of history and been changed by them. Some of us have had the course of our lives changed by them.

Sometimes you don't realize the significance of your own history and the realities of what those historical moments have wrought until something happens to make you reflect.

19 March 2010

The Losses

There have been so many fallen Marines (and soldiers) since the offensive began in Afghanistan. My heart breaks for the families of each and every one of them. I cannot help but mourn for each life that ended too soon and the experiences they will not get the have.

Each loss is also a reminder to hold on dearly to the ones that I love. I need to be fully present in each moment, because there is no guarantee of another. My prayers go out in earnest today, for the Bestie, my cousins, and each Marine, soldier, sailor, and airman who serves in harms way.

I am praying for a fellow blogger, who lost her husband, Cpl Jonathan Daniel Porto. They have a little girl, 9 weeks old, who will not get to know her daddy. Rachel, age 23, has lost the love of her life.

Visit her blog and let her know you are thinking of her and will remember the sacrifice her family has made for our nation:
A Little Pink in a World of Camo

14 March 2010

Helmet for my Pillow: From Parris Island to the Pacific by Robert Leckie

In preparation for the HBO miniseries The Pacific, I have been reading all of the accounts the producers used for the film, as well as any others I can get my hands on. I started with Robert Leckie's A Helmet for my Pillow.

My first reaction, after reading the poem that the book takes it's name from is How did I not read this in school? It is amazing what we do not learn. This account of the war in the Pacific is one of the most gripping accounts of any war that I have read.

I have a special love for Marines and the lore of the Marine Corps. Many of my family members are Marines. My best friend is a Marine. I have been taken in and adopted, in a sense, by a local Marine Corps Veterans Association. The first individual I ever wrote to as a volunteer with Soldiers' Angels was a Marine. For that reason, I love the history of the Old Breed as it is presented by Leckie. It is fascinating to read of his time at Parris Island, his time in the fleet, and his time at war. As he says, "The making of Marines...it is a process of surrender."

What makes this book so gripping, is that it could be about Marines today. I recognize so many similarities in the spirit and make up in the Marines, both young and old, that I know today. I can picture his characters as men I know. Hoosier could easily be an old salt I know from the Vets Association who island hopped with the 1st Marine Division. The echoes of Leckie's Parris Island remain in the tales I hear from friends and family during and after recruit training.

Leckie's account of the Pacific campaigns are powerful. Much of what he says is relevant today. There are many passages where I would have to stop reading and ponder what he wrote. He writes about war and the thin line between sanity and madness. I am struck yet again by how much we have to learn from these men. The warriors of the Second World War did their duties and came home to live out their lives. They may have had more recognition from the general public for their service, but they still had to live out the private battles that continued to rage in their minds. Leckie writes, "And there is terror, coming from the interaction of trial and tedium." Our men and women today are fighting wars that are just as terrifying and just as destructive. We should learn what we can from these men who fought in the Pacific and apply it as we help our present day warriors heal from their war.

In my opinion, the last three pages are the most powerful. Here, he struggles to answer the eternal question from the fat, wealthy, protected, ignorant civilian, "What did you get out of it? What were you fighting for?" These are the questions we still ask. These are the questions warriors past and present still use to try and put their experiences into perspective.

Leckie found his answer, or at least found the answer he was willing to share with the world. He writes:

"Now I know. For myself, a memory and the strength of ordeal sustained; for my son, a priceless heritage; for my country, sacrifice. The last is enough for all, for it is sacrifice--the suffering of those who lived, the immolation of those who died...It is to sacrifice that men go to war. They do not go to kill, they go to be killed, to risk their flesh, to insert their precious persons in the path of destruction...But sacrifice says: 'Not the blood of your brother, my friend-your blood'(304)."

"That is why women weep when their men go off to war. They do not weep for their victims, they weep for them as Victim. That is why, with the immemorial insight of mamkind, there are gay songs and colorful bands to send them off to fortify their failing hearts, not to quicken their lust for blood. That is why there are no glorious living, but only glorious dead. Heroes turn traitor, warriors age and grow soft-but a victim is changeless, sacrifice is eternal (305)."


Remember the sacrifices, large and small.

Thank you, Mr. Leckie, for sharing your story.

03 March 2010

Mr. Douglas

There are many things I will miss about the job I am being forced to leave.

Mostly, I will miss the people and the relationships I have developed with them.

Of the people I will miss the most, Mr. Douglas ranks the highest.

Mr. Douglas is a sweet, kind, gentle man who answered his nation's call to service during the Second World War. He served in the Navy and has quite a tale to tell if you are willing to listen. He is a man of many varied experiences, each one richer than the last.

Mr. Douglas came into my life about two years ago. We share similar interests in books and historical time periods, so we hit it off right away. We were always friendly, but the turning point came one day, around Veteran's Day. Mr. Douglas was lamenting that once all of the WWII vets are gone, no one will remember what they did and no one will remember their stories. I told Mr. Douglas to tell me, and I'd remember. I shared with him the Veteran's Day programming I was attending that year and the many activities I was involved in to support our military.

From that day on, Mr. Douglas and I had a special connection. Every time he comes in, he tells me a story. Sometimes it is a war story. Sometimes it is a story about life aboard a Navy ship as a young man. Other times he shares with me a story from his days as a traveling salesman, selling ladies dresses door to door. That man still has an eye for print and what will sell, let met tell you. After awhile, he started to share with me the stories of his family, his wife, and his children. He entrusted me with the story of the tragic loss of his son and the importance of organ donation. Mr. Douglas will tell you that even though nothing can take away the pain of his loss, the fact that his son's organs were used to save the lives of 12 people eases it some. Mr. Douglas and I talk of politics, the future, and our life goals each week when he comes to visit. He has become a blessing in my life, and I hope I have become one in his.

I had to tell Mr. Douglas that my time at this job is coming to an end. He told me that he was crushed and that is how I feel as well. Mr. Douglas told me he would miss me, miss me an awful lot. He came around the counter and gave me one of the biggest, warmest hugs I have ever received. Then he pulled me back, gave me a kiss on the cheek, and told me I was a special girl. There were tears in both of our eyes. There were tears in the eyes of most everyone who witnessed it.

He turned to leave and as he hit the door, he turned around and saluted me.

He asked for my contact information and I gave it to him. He says that a little distance isn't an obstacle to a good friendship, but it is inevitable that our relationship will be changed in some way. I hope we stay in touch.

I will miss seeing him every week. I will miss his stories. I will miss the twinkle in his eye and his indomitable spirit.

Mr. Douglas, you have my respect and my loyalty. I will always remember your stories. Thank you for entrusting them into my care. Fair winds and following seas.

01 March 2010

I miss my friend

I miss my best friend.

Funny how things happen when it is most inconvenient.

I could use his perspective tonight.

Oh, the joys of deployment.

Tomorrow, off to find the Grippos.

Time to visit all the lovely people again at my favorite post office.