"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

30 May 2011

RIP Will

Never Forgotten
"What you leave behind is not what is engraved in stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others." ~Pericles

29 May 2011

Not Forgotten

This is a post I originally did for the anniversary of a friend of mine's death in Iraq.  I will visit his grave tomorrow and I will think of many more fallen soldiers and their families.  You are not forgotten.

Also see this post: 
Coming Together

Meet Cpl. Willard M. Powell

August 15, 20007 was Cpl. Will Powell's last day on this earth.

He joined the Army in Feb. of 2006. He was assigned to the 4th Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division (Stryker Brigade Combat Team), Fort Lewis, Wash. and died Aug. 16 in Balad, Iraq, of wounds sustained when the enemy attacked using small-arms fire during combat operations in Taramiyah, Iraq. He was posthumously awarded the Combat Infantryman’s Badge, Bronze Star, Purple Heart, Army Commendation Medal and Good Conduct Medal.

This was a man who grew into a hero, but I knew him best as Will, a super-competitive kid who often annoyed the crap out of me in 3rd-4th grade. I was a super-competitive kid too. We had many battles before and after school in daycare. Recesses were also fair game. We played on competing soccer teams in the school league. I took great pleasure in beating him. At anything.
Whatever it was-basketball, soccer, checkers, the card game War with Uno cards, redlight-greenlight, or heads up seven up- we seemed to face off. He didn't want me on his teams much, as I was a just a girl, and a small one at that. That just made me angry and all the more determined to beat the living daylights out of him.

One day in childcare, we were playing basketball. I was on the opposing team, the only girl. He gave me crap the whole game, wouldn't shut up. I ended up with the ball as the teacher was calling everyone in. It was the last shot and the score was tied. I got a shot away- while being knocked down by one the boys- and ended up with two bloody knees and a bloody elbow. But I made the basket. My team won. My mom wasn't happy with another pair of torn pants, but my team won.
As I was picking the gravel out of my knee and contemplating a trip to the nurse for some bandaids, Will offered me a hand up and said, "you can play." That day, we went from being rivals to friends. We recognized in each other a certain fight, a stubborn determination. After that, we teamed up together a couple of times. We never lost.

Will transfered schools at some point, maybe a year later. It seemed like one day he was there and the next he was gone. He was going through some family stuff, and that probably had something to do with it. The playground wasn't quite as frustrating without him, or as fun.

I was walking down the hallway at my high school, I believe at the beginning of the year, turned a corner and almost walked into him. This was a surprise, not many kids from our small Christian school went to this high school, ever. It took us a second to recognize each other and from where. We caught up, laughed, and then rushed off to make it to class before the bell rang.

We saw each other in the halls often after that. I had a class or two with him, and we were friendly. Didn't really run around with the same people though, after classes. But he always had a smile for me in the hall. We joked around about teachers and assignments. Sometimes even about those games on the playground when I kicked his butt (or he kicked mine). He never failed to notice if I looked sad or upset. He'd crack a grin and tell me to cheer up.

Will is one of the last people I saw before I left the building the final time on the last day of school as a senior. I was in the business hallway, and he was too. He was at a locker, his or someone elses, just standing around. He flashed a giant last-day-of-school smile and said "Good luck, have a good summer. I'll see ya around."

We went our separate ways after that. I regret not keeping in better touch. I guess I thought we would fall back into each others lives at some point, as childhood friends seem to do. That image- of Will holding onto a locker at the end of the hall, rocking jeans and a white shirt, huge grin plastered on his face- is the memory I hold onto.

Cpl. Will Powell is a hero who gave his life looking out for other people. It will be two years tomorrow. His story should be told. He deserves to be remembered.

RIP Will.

22 May 2011

The Blood Stripe

The Blood Stripe:

The month of May marks the return of the sun, warm weather, and pops of color as plants and flowers embrace spring.  It also brings with it a time to remember.  If you are connected in any way to the military you  have a list of names to remember.  They are friends, battle buddies, mentors, and leaders who left for war and did not return. They are brothers, sisters, cousins, moms, dads, and best friends.  As we enjoy the sunshine and make our Memorial Day plans this month, may we pause to remember those families who will honor not just the fallen, but their fallen loved ones.

Outside my workplace there is an American flag that rises high above the parking lot.  I see it everyday, multiple times a day.  A recent storm made the wind blow it out to it's full length and I was struck by the colors that stood out boldly from the muted grays in the clouds. 

The sight provoked this question: What do you see when you look at the flag?  We see it every day. Salute it at ball games.  Cheer on the stars and stripes in international sporting events.  It graces everything from our municipal vehicles to various clothing and novelty items.  It is a complex symbol which simultaneously provokes love and hate, hope and oppression.

But what do you see when you look at the flag?  There are 50 white stars representing the states, and symbolizing heaven, 13 stripes for the original colonies that rebelled against British rule and founded the nation and which are symbolic of the rays of light emanating from the sun.  There are colors: blue, signifying vigilance, perseverance & justice; white, signifying purity and innocence; and red signifying hardiness and valor.

The boldness of the red stripes grab me.  Stripes that proclaim hardiness and valor.  Red stripes carry additional lore within military culture, particularly within the Marine Corps.  There is a similar red stripe that runs down the trouser legs on the dress blue uniforms of NCOs, SNCOs, and officers.  This stripe is commonly referred to as the "blood stripe" and serves as a reminder of the blood that has been spilled and honors the memory of fallen comrades.

Red for the blood of those who die to keep our nation free.  Blood stripe.  Red stripes on the flag that covers our war dead.  Our wars are anesthetized now.  We don't see the pools of blood under a young man who has just had his legs ripped off by an RPG.  We don't see the shoulder patch-- muted battle flag leaning forward into battle, soaked with the blood of a young woman who has just been peppered with fragments of metal and bone by a bomber willing to use even his own body as a weapon.  We are shielded from the pink mist, the human detritus that stripped of it's niceties is the sacrifice of war.  But it is up there with us every day in the red stripes that drip down the flag.

I am reminded of a John Ciardi poem.  In "A Box Comes Home" he writes, "I remember the United States of America/ As a flag-draped box with Arthur in it/ And six Marines to bear it on their shoulders."

When I look at the flag hanging vertically off a wall in my bedroom, I see names and faces blurred inside the crimson.  Gunnar is there with his duct tape and fast car.  Will is there too, probably making a bet on something. Jonathan has on a lazy grin.  Liz's Sergeant is there next to Sam, Kim, and Jess.  Chris is in there playing Little League.  Jon is there rubbing the pregnant belly of his wife before loading the bus that took him away forever.  It is their blood that has stained red the flags imprinted on our Old Navy tshirts and that fly outside our windows and line our pews.

It is their sacrifice, the blood of "patriots who proved in liberating strife that our flag was still there."

When the little flags are flying this month over graves long since neglected and over the fresh graves of a new generation's war dead pay attention to the red stripes.  Look at the names on the graves and imagine the people they were.  Imagine the stories they could tell you.  Remember the fallen were people once, not an academic abstraction, a dry statistic, a tally on a journalist's score sheet, or a tool to be used in political debate.  Remember what the flags signify-a ideal, a country, an oath, a soldier.

Remember, as Robert Leckie wrote, "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."  Remember those who will be absent from their families' picnics on Memorial Day, because sacrifice whispered to them "Not the blood of your brother, my friend-your blood."

Hopes and dreams stopped mid act.  An empty bedroom.  A picture instead of a father.   A mother's arms embracing a folded flag where a daughter used to be.

John Ciardi said this about the loss of his friend, "I would pray/ An agreement with the United States of America/ To equal Arthur's living as it equals his dying../

Or, to quote a pop-culture source, a dying Captain Miller says to Private Ryan in Spielberg's film "Saving Private Ryan,"  "Earn this James...Earn this."

What can we do to honor those we have loved and lost?  On whatever path God has placed you on, live your life in a manner worthy of their sacrifice.  Vote.  Serve others.  Send a care package.  Hug a soldier.  And whatever you do, take a moment this May to remember.

13 May 2011

Vigils by Siegfried Sassoon

I've spent quite a bit of time studying the poets of the first World War.  Most classes study the poets who were subsequently killed in the war and therefore left rather limited bodies of work behind.  These poets certainly left behind very valuable and insightful works on the nature of war and human experience of war but they cannot answer a question that I find intriguing: What happens after the war?  How does the war impact you for the rest of your life?  How do you carry on, especially in the case of the WWI poets, when so many of your friends and comrades did not come home?

These questions led me to the work of Siegfried Sassoon and a collection of poems published in 1936 entitled Vigils.  Sassoon enlisted at the relatively advanced age of 28.  I'm sure that the maturity he gained in the preceding years impacted his wartime experience.  As a soldier he was known for his courage, often leading nighttime raids.  He was decorated for his gallantry in battle.  He was wounded.  He had a complicated relationship with the war in which he served.  He saw its destruction and created controversy when he spoke out with the notion that his nation's leaders were unnecessarily prolonging the war by their actions.

What makes his story different from other Great War poets is that he survived the war.

Of all the men who were lost to the war, this one lived.  He lived until 1967.

I think of all the life he lived after his 4 years at war and how they must have colored the way he saw the world.  We often hear of how WWII veterans lived after the war but we don't seem to collectively remember that those veterans of the first world war did the same. 

Vigils  is a glimpse into that life. For example, a line from "December Stillness," 
December stillness, crossed by twilight roads, Teach me to travel far and bear my loads...
They were not true, those dreams, those story books of youth;
I left them all at home; went out to find the truth; 
Slammed the green garden gate on my young years, and started
Along the road to search for freedom, empty-hearted.

But dreams have secret strength; the will not die so soon:
They haunt the quiet house through idle afternoon; 
And under childhood skies their summer thoughts await
The rediscovering soul returning tired and late.

For, having grown world wise through harshly unlearned illusion, 
The Traveller into time arrives at this conclusion,-
That life, encountered and unmasked in variant shapes,
Dissolves in dust and cloud, and thwartingly escapes.
But in remembered eyes of youth my dreams remain.
They were my firstling friends.  I have returned again. (p.7)

It becomes clear that the past stays with him.  He wrestles with it.  He mocks it.  He embraces it.  But he never forgets it.  As he shows in Ex-Service and We Shall Not All Sleep, it is always with him, always in his head.
Break silence.  You have listened overlong to muttering mind-wrought voices.  Call for lights.
Prove these persistent haunting presences wrong Who mock and stultify your days and nights.

Dawn comes, and re-creates the sleepless room; 
And eyesight asks what arguing plagues exist. 
But in that garret of uneasy gloom
Which is your brain, the presences persist (17).

I love how he recalls John McCrae's famous poem and all of its connotations in this one.  He plays with the imagery of sleep and life and deathAgain, not all of them "sleep."  Some of them find the dead revisit them in their sleep.  The vet and the fallen are both restless.

 Unvouched are visions.  But sleep-forsaken faith 
Can win unworlded miracles and rejoice,
Welcoming, at haggard ends of the night, ---what wraith---
What angel---what beloved and banished voice?

I am also drawn to Revisitation.

What voice revisits me this night?  What face
to my heart's room returns?
From that perpetual silence where the grace
Of human sainthood burns
Hates he once more to harmonize and heal?
I know not.  Only I feel 
His influence undiminished.
And his life's work, in me and many, unfinished.
Who hasn't lost someone and continued to feel their influence after they are gone.  Who hasn't wanted to live a life worthy of the loss sustained?  Who hasn't wanted to complete something that someone who is gone started?

Sassoon's collection Vigils doesn't provide an explicit answer for how he lived his life after the trauma and the loss of the Great War.  But he does give us clues as to what it was like to be a survivor.  He lets us in a little, lifts the veil, and let's us see how the war in his head grew, evolved, struggled, and ultimately healed. 

02 May 2011

Osama Bin Laden is Dead

This deserves much more reflection later, but for now, this picture pretty much sums it up.