It’s the Fourth of July and while other families are enjoying barbeques and fireworks and family together time, I’m fighting a pity party by making a "movable banner" for my dog and dragging her to a public fireworks celebration to register voters this evening.
Don’t worry, I promise we’ll be home long before the fireworks start and make her heart pound.
I’m kidless for another fourth and if you sense a little self-pity, yeah, I’m indulging. It’s not too often but on days like this, I think have every right... You see, my two boys signed up to serve their country and nothing's been the same since.
They were only following in the footsteps of their granddads, both of who served in WWII. I honored and appreciated their desire to serve, and truthfully, it was easy with the first one - - he signed up and went in before 9/11.
He’ll be heading back to Iraq in two months time again. His third tour, and this time under stop loss orders. He was due to complete his full commitment in September but they just got him under the wire.
He’s a Marine. An 0311, a "bullet sponge," the first in. An infantry grunt. He’s just been promoted but I remind him I was very proud of him even before this, when he was living, working and going to school as a civilian.
My nose burns and eyes sting with tears that want to surface as I think about his upcoming tour. I’m filled with fear and a deep worry I can’t shake. I think of the mathematical odds... The first time he went, it was with the 2nd MEB. He crossed over the berms wearing chem-bio gear and made it through the Battle of Nasariyah unscathed. At least on the outside. He came home and immediately got a tattoo to honor a former Parris Island DI he served with who he saw gunned down in front of his eyes. He refused to talk of the horrors and buried his memories in a bottle.
Two years later, he returned to Iraq. Still in the active duty Marines, my son was a Corporal now, and lead a squad of Marines in Anbar Province. He was nearly killed in an ambush, and was saved only when a fellow NCO disobeyed orders to go into the building where he was pinned down to even up the odds. Now that other young man suffers such bad PTSD he’s had to be locked up and put on suicide watch a time or two since returning stateside. My son bears the burden of losing one of his own men there. He keeps in touch with the family and visits his grave at Arlington when he’s in the area.
My younger and only other son joined up in ’04. He was planning to go to college but that Summer something prompted him to go in. He chose the Army, preferring Basic Training at Ft. Benning to Boot Camp at Parris Island. I tried to steer him toward the Air Force. Navy. No, he wanted infantry. Army infantry. I coulda died!
He went to Iraq in early 2006 serving in the same region – Anbar Province – his older brother did. More loss of life, loss of innocence, and loss of soul. The week my son turned 19 he lost his best pal there to an IED and was assigned to replace him as the driver. A few concussions, a few gunfights, news of an extended tour rocked my son’s world and he sought help. He ended up on three different medications while in Iraq. One for anxiety, one for sleeping, and one for depression. I was horrified to learn he was still going out on missions in that state knowing they all needed their wits to detect any freshly replaced curbs, any stray dead dogs lying in the street, both of which could be the bearer of roadside bombs.
He returned to his army base after 15 months there, but the celebration was low key since the base was short of funds to do the big time fanfare welcome homes they had done in the past. Since it was an overseas base, I was not able to welcome him home until he returned stateside a few weeks later after requesting a transfer to a stateside base. After a few weeks home, he headed to the new base, not sure if the stomach pains were from something he ate or what. They got worse and troubled him so even the mention of food would cause him to gag.
At the new base, he went to the medical facility and sought treatment and was given some minor "cure the symptom" stuff. Weeks went by and he got worse and dropped a tremendous amount of weight even though he was not heavy to begin with. In the meantime he was finding it very hard to sleep, too and was drinking to set his mind at ease.
Things snowballed and long story short, he is among the escalating numbers of "wounded warriors." He is one of the very fortunate ones, though, because I had learned enough and was well-enough connected to fight to get him a medical discharge. Those less fortunate end up booted out on personality disorder discharges, for discipline reasons, or suicide.
So this afternoon, rather than indulge in the self-pity of the moment, I’m doing something about it. Doing something to make sure that this is the very last Fourth of July we Americans need to spend filled with such despair and hopelessness. I’m taking the dog to the local fireworks gathering where we’ll do our best to register new voters and educate the willing about the hope that Barack Obama brings, the hope that will unify America to do good things once again.
My sincere and heartfelt thanks to all Veterans, those serving, and their families on this day.