I began to struggle with my political and moral justification for the war that I was now a veteran of.
My political views began to falter. I no longer could swallow what the public was being told. I knew it was different than what the talking heads on the news and the spin-doctors in the government were saying it was.
And them Ryan had an experience that put him on the road he's on now. More on the flip...
I thought that I would never get anyone to "understand" me. Then sometime around August something happened that made me realize how I was to come to terms with it.
Cindy Sheehan had moved into Crawford. The small town of less than 1000 had been turned into the site of a national media spectacle. The mother of a soldier wanted to know why her son had been killed. She needed to hear from the President what the real reason was.
I felt a pull to the town just to see what was going on. A buddy of mine and I made the 105 mile drive to the north on a Sunday afternoon. Little did I know that this trip would change me forever. I sat down and wrote this with memory still fresh in my head.
Ryan and a friend drove the 105 miles north to Crawford, wondering what they were going to see, and settling on the notion that it was going to be a circus. Which it proved to be. Seeing wll the white crosses, seeing the protestors on both sides yelling at each other, it all brought a knot to the stomach of this young man who was trying to come to terms with his own experiences in Iraq:
We drove past Camp Casey 1. Protestors were on both sides yelling at us and at each other. This was the circus that we had talked about. I noticed the white crosses. I tried to ignore them and focus on the road. My buddy made a comment about how nice the country side was. It helped snap me back from the blackness I was beginning to feel. We drove past the turn to Bush's "ranch" and made our way to Camp Casey 2.
We parked on the road and began to walk towards the area. Part of me wanted to run. I still wasn't sure if I was doing the right thing, but as we crested the hill and I saw the cross memorial. I was certain that I knew someone in there. I knew I was in too deep.
We paid a nominal visit to the crosses, and then moved into the tent to see what was going on. I saw posters for varying organizations. I saw the 15 ft. coffin covered with the names of fallen soldiers. People were milling about, talking about this and that. The knot tightened in my stomach a little. But I drove on.
This went on for some time, while visiting the camps, talking to some of the protestors, just wandering around trying to ignore the tightening knot in his stomach.
And then something happened that brought him a little peace. One of those meetings between souls that seems to be meant to be:
I had noticed a tent set up near the rear of the camp. My interest was peaked, so we walked over. It was the tent for Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW). I stood outside for a few minutes and finally mustered up the guts to go in. The first guy I talked to seemed a little distracted. But there was another vet there that seemed more interested. We started a short conversation about where we had been stationed in Iraq and what not. Normal Army guy chit-chat, but there was more in that conversation than anyone could have known.
My buddy saw the whole exchange, but I'm not sure that he got it all. I saw in the other vet's eyes that he knew exactly where I was without even asking. I saw that he understood my pain. He shared the demons I have. I said more to him in five minutes than I have to anyone since I got back six months ago. My healing began at that point.
As I was reading this for the first time, this next part was where I started to cry. I had to get up and go fuss about in the kitchen a bit before I could come back and get through all of it:
I knew then it was time to face my personal hell. I walked over to the crosses and I began to look at each one. I said a prayer and told them that I would use the rest of my life to make sure that they were not forgotten. I wanted to find the parents of each one and give them a hug. I wanted to tell them that their son or daughter had not died in vain. That they fought for each other and a ticket home. I wanted to go back to the second that they were killed and rescue them so that their families would stop suffering.
I had recently read the various diaries concerning starkraving's anger with Cindy and the various responses. So much pain for so little gain, the story of this stupid illegal war. That last paragraph really got to me...
While walking through the crosses, recognizing a few names, trying to put on a brave face but ending up in tears halfway through, Ryan suddenly was overcome with that feeling I've had so many times, and he states it more eloquently than I ever have:
I was angry. I wanted to run up to Bush's house and kick in his door. I wanted to force him to tell me what we were fighting for. Why all of this death? What reason did he justify this with? What allowed him to sleep peacefully at night while I tossed and turned with the sound of gunfire and mortars in my head?
How many of us have had that same feeling(minus the gunfire and mortars in our dreams)? Our utter frustration as we wake up to yet more reports of death, and yet more pronouncements that to honor the fallen we must stay the course. Jack Murtha going against the grain, the grain of even most of his own party, of our party, was a stunning and incredibly happy event last week.
And that brings me to the point of this Thanksgiving Day diary, the road that Ryan has chosen:
As I calmed down, we headed back to my Jeep. Amid the honks of cars and the screaming of protestors, the true message was there. Never forget the fallen. I took one last look around and drove on.
This simple trip made me realize that I had a duty as a soldier to get the word out. There are other soldiers out there that need to have an experience that I did. They need to start the healing process. On top of that, the American people needed to know what was really going on. People needed to see what was happening in Iraq. I have since made a pledge to myself and to the memory of the more than 2000 dead that the world will never forget them. That their names, deeds and actions will be remembered every time.
This simple diary is my way of helping Ryan further his cause, of honoring his service. I figure that here on DailyKos it has a chance to reach many more people. And if you agree please push that little Recommend button, so we can reach as many people as possible with Ryan's (and the rest of the vets at Operation Truth's) message about this stupid illegal war. Maybe even send the link to a few people. Please help this brave man get his message out:
Let's honor our troops by bringing them home, sooner rather than later. Let's honor the Iraqi's by acknowledging their wish for us to bring our troops home, sooner rather than later. Let's keep pulling bricks from the wall that Jack Murtha started to breach last week, until our troops come home, sooner rather than later.
Together we can do it.