Monday, May 30, 2011

Memorial Day: What I'll Never Really Know

As a writer, I do my best to express things in such a way that will bring the reader in to my words. So today, I wanted you to share what Memorial Day means from the perspective of the battlefield and beyond. I wanted to get your pride for our military hyped up by the courage of men and women fighting for their fellow warriors and for our nation's survival. I wanted you to feel anxiety by feeling the hot breath of an enemy at close quarters, or the terror of watching bombs and missiles killing soldiers on either side (and who knows where the next one might fall). I wanted you to share the closeness of deeply-knit friendships sewn together by the common experience of battle, where each person on the battlefield relies on the person next to them for their very life; or the tremendous grief resulting from the loss of such friends. I wanted you to thrill in the joy of going home and finally being reunited with loved ones, weep in the heartbreak of knowing there are families who will never share that elation, and shudder at persistent nightmares that linger for years on end. I wanted you to clench your fists in anger at being called a murderer for attacking an enemy that uses human shields, while they purposely target innocents on our side. I wanted you to understand how it feels to wrestle between guilt and exoneration in such instances, or from when a split second battle decision was required that resulted in a terrible consequence.

I wanted you to know what it's like to realize life can never be as it was before, even though there are so many expressions of appreciation for services rendered.

I wanted you to know these things so you can fall on your knees in gratitude for what this nation's military personnel have done to help secure your freedoms and give you the hope of a better tomorrow.

Truth is, I can never know (and therefore, never accurately convey) those feelings, because I never experienced battle while I was in the Navy. The closest I ever came was when our ship went to General Quarters while we were at sea during the Cold War. The friendships I developed? We'd work a long day, then go out to have some drinks and possibly pick up some women, and then return to the relative safety and comfort of our ship. While boot camp trained us to lose ourselves for the good of our shipmates and the ultimate good of our nation, we were never put into a situation that required us to put our lives on the line for each other. So I was able to make room for selfishness, a luxury no person on the battlefield could ever afford. I griped when reveille went off too early after a long night of partying. I griped when a large shipment of supplies came in that we'd have to "hump" to their respective storerooms. And I griped when our Senior Chief or PO1 got on our cases because we said "wall" instead of "bulkhead." Nightmares? I was "troubled" by dreams years after leaving the military that involved me waking up and I'm seeing myself back in my bunk at boot camp. But then I'd look around and realize where I really was.

So in light of my actual military experience, maybe I should take back some of what I "want" you to know and feel, especially the more troubling experiences. Because while I don't ever want the battle experiences of our past and present warriors to be made light of, and I want us each to be ever so much more grateful for their courage and selflessness, the fact that they themselves so often refuse to share the more painful memories of their moments in battle makes me realize (second-hand, of course) there are some horrors and griefs too terrible to ever bring up again. I do hope you can read about or even talk to a veteran of battle that can give you their perspective on things. And please, if you do meet one of them, give them the greatest thanks you possibly can.

As for me, I thank each one of you that has fought so that our nation can have the hope of being the greatest in the world. I pray that God and people he uses will be able to help relieve some of the emotional and physical trauma you continue to experience. And for those families who have experienced the sadness of a person lost or injured or missing or traumatized by battle, may God grant you the hope and peace you so richly deserve. We are deeply in your debt.

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