The children and I had a long talk about both Veteran’s and Memorial Day and why we observe them. I want them to understand that there is a point and purpose to havingÂ a military. I want them to recognize that when we say that Freedom isn’t Free it is not some foolish statement that people just say. I want them to understand the difference between patriotism and flag waving.Â I want them to recognize that even if we don’t agree with the government we respect those who give back for us.
His name was Mark. He was a 36 year-old army medic who was waiting to head off to Afghanistan. I remember talking to him about it and asking if he was eligible to a longer stay stateside. He had already done two tours in Iraq and it was clear to me that his time over there had hurt him. It wasn’t the physical pain that I worried about. He had been injured in Baghdad but not so severely that he couldn’t play basketball with us.
I suppose that you could call us gym friends. We didn’t hang out together outside of the gym, but inside it wasn’t unusual to find us together. We liked to play on the same team. Even though he was far more talented than I was our skills complemented each other. In a half court game all we needed was one other solid role player and we were tough to beat.
It was sort of a funny match to me because before he became a solider I wanted to smack him silly. He was younger than I was and obnoxious in a way that just set me off. But the service changed him or maybe it is better to say that whatever he saw/experienced changed him. I can’t really tell you what that was because I only know small pieces of it.
What I do know is that prior to 9/11 he was a software engineer who was single and earning a lot of cash. But after the towers fell he felt an obligation to give something back and he chose the military. Off he went to boot camp and to wherever it was Uncle Sam sent him afterwards.Â Must have been gone for quite a while because I don’t think that I saw him again until after his first tour of Iraq.
It feels a little foolish describing it like some sort of concert tour because presumably a tour is fun while war is not.
The guy who came back from that first tour was very different than the one I knew before that. He would tell me that he didn’t know what to do with himself and that he couldn’t sleep. I told him that I would listen to whatever stories he felt comfortable sharing and suggested that he find someone to speak with who understood what he had been through. I have seen and experienced some very nasty things but combat isn’t one of them.
At the end of May 2009 I left the gym. Mark hadn’t left for Afghanistan yet. I told him that I was cancelling my membership and asked if I could buy him a beer. Said that we should exchange email addresses and that when he had a moment he could drop me a line and tell me if he had kicked Osama’s ass for me yet.
He never showed up at the bar so I didn’t buy him that beer I wanted to. I didn’t have a cellphone number for him or an email address- nor did I know anyone who did.Â The upshot of it all is that I don’t know what happened to Mark. But I hope that he kept his head down and his ass out of the line of fire.
I am grateful and appreciative to all of our soldiers past and present. Medical advances are saving a lot of them who in wars past wouldn’t have come home. But I wonder and worry about them. We might be doing a better job of saving their lives but what happens to their minds. It can’t be good. I just hope that Uncle Sam does a better job of providing them with resources that can give those who need help the assistance that they require.
On a related note I have been thinking about how Israel celebrates their memorial day, Yom Hazikaron. There are a number of different events but the one I want to highlight is the siren that goes off all over the country so that people can observe a national moment of silence. Take a look at the videos below and you’ll see traffic come to a halt and people standing still.
It is a nice gesture to see everyone stop and recognize the sacrifices that were made. Thank you again to all those who serve, we appreciate it.