Archive Logo.jpg

November 10, 2004

Veteran's Day, 2004

Today I will participate in my very first Veteran's Day parade... as a veteran. Not that I haven't been a veteran these many years, that goes with being a soldier and now a retired soldier. I've attended, I've supported, but not participated. No, this is the first time I've been invited because I'm a vet, to participate in a parade. As one of the honorees, so to speak, though just in the manner of participating, not by name or anything. Allow me to thank frequent commenter Monteith, who extended the invitation, and in whose personally-owned Ferret I'll be riding, along with other vehicles, like a Vietnam Gun Truck, that the local owners of military vehicles are providing as mounts for the ever-thinning group of WWII veterans. I will be in august company. All the days of combat during my entire period of service, had I been there for all of them, would not match the combat duration of the veterans of WWII, Korea, Vietnam, Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom. I truly served in a period of time that was a vacation from history. There are soldiers who graduated from Basic Training here at Fort Benning six months ago who are more 'veteran' than I.

Today we celebrate the living. The survivors. We honor the dead in May. Except today we honor the dead, too. We can't help it. The bonds of combat soldiery are tightest because of those who aren't there. Most of us have an "absent companion" or four that we drink to, when the time is right. Tomorrow it will be right. I have 13 that I will drink to - but I'll wait until I get home. 13 shots of tequila, well, that's not something to do before you get on an airplane! I won't do it tonight when I get home, either. I spread 'em out between Veteran's Day and Memorial Day. My father doesn't even try. If he toasted all his ghosts, his liver would rip itself out of his belly and run.

We have bonds. Bonds that sometimes our closest family don't understand. Why does Grampa Joe keep bailing that wino out of trouble? Because that wino lost two fingers tossing a grenade out of a two-man fighting position during the a vicious night fight on Guadalcanal, that's why. Because that stranger that Dad greets like a long lost brother once a year is, in fact, a long lost brother, who shared the exhilaration of the night combat drop on Point Salines. Because the quiet guy you've never seen before extracted your Dad's best friend's body from a helicopter crash in Mogadishu by cutting off his legs - so that no man would be left behind. Because that guy over there negotiated with Aideed to get the legs back.

Because that woman over there comforted many of your grandfather's friends as they lay dying, the last thing they ever saw, or heard. Because that janitor in your school spent a long night on LZ X-Ray, cut off from his unit, keeping his squadmates alive. Because that Bank President over there drove an AMTRAC across the reef at Tarawa under a withering fire so your uncle wouldn't have to slog in on foot, fighting both the sea and the Japanese. That man in Lions with your great-uncle? Your uncle helped him walk out from the Frozen Chosin.

Because that man over there helped Uncle Bob deal with Esther's "Dear John" letter, that arrived right before "Big Push." And him, that guy playing with his grandkids, who always seems to have some candy for you... well, he's a Glow-worm, a fighter pilot who jumped from a burning aircraft after he lost that dogfight with the Bf-109, and spent the rest of the war in a POW camp - and survived the forced marches to the west, as the germans were falling back from the onslaught of the Red Army. His buddy? The wingman whose 'six' was being covered. We are also a maudlin, sentimental group. We honor ALL of our veterans. Especially the ones who didn't really volunteer, but would and did give their lives freely for their brothers in arms, too.

We have the bond of shared experiences, whether it's Basic, Jump School, the JRTC, Graf, Pahakuloa, Camp Red Cloud, Hof, Okinawa, Tay Ninh, Vung Tau, Suwon, Phenix City, El Paso, Biloxi, the convoys across the Atlantic, storming over a beach, busting bunkers, hunkering under artillery, rescuing families caught in the middle, finding that cask of cognac and... and the list goes on and on and on.

It will be an honor to take my place among you, you men and women who simply did their duty. Who didn't run. Who came when asked. I will be among giants. But my thoughts will be with the newest wave of veterans.

The one's doing the most difficult and dangerous fighting an army can do - and these elements of 3 distinct unit cultures, the 1st Marine Division, and the Army's TF 2/2 Infantry of the 1st Infantry Divsion and TF 2/7 Cavalry of the 1st Cavalry Divsion, with their supporting arms and services arrayed around, overhead, and among 'em - are house by house, street by street, block by block, taking back Fallujah. And while there is serious loss of life among the insurgents (a Good Thing) - there is nowhere near the historical level of civilian casualties inherent in fighting in occupied built-up areas - nor in the assaulting elements. Some of that is because a lot of the insurgents aren't very good - murderous, but not soldier-quality. But most of it is because of the quality of the next wave of the new 'Greatest Generation' now crashing ashore in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Tomorrow as I ride in the parade, my thoughts will be with my new brothers-in-arms, and I know that the torch has been passed, and is in most excellent hands.

The Republic is well served. Well served indeed. And as long as we find men and women willing to do the hard, dirty work - there will be a Republic.

We have not fought most of our wars this last hundred years alone. And other nations, other armies, with whom we have much in common also honor the living and remember their dead. This year, I honor our Canadian brothers, who shed blood with us in Afghanistan, and sadly, a good chunk of it was shed by us... so it's only fitting.

Usually around Christmas you see the poems about the American soldier and his sacrifices. The Canadians have one too.

Who Is He

He is profane and irreverent, living as he does in a world full of capriciousness, frustration and disillusionment. He is perhaps the best-educated of his kind in history, but will rarely accord respect on the basis of mere degrees or titles.

He speaks his own dialect, often incomprehensible to the layman. He can be cold, cruel, even brutal and is frequently insensitive. Killing is his profession and he strives very hard to become even more skilled at it.

His model is the grey, muddy, hard-eyed slayer who took the untakeable at Vimy Ridge, endured the unendurable in the Scheldt and held the unholdable at Kapyong.

He is a superlative practical diplomat; his efforts have brought peace to countless countries around the world. He is capable of astonishing acts of kindness, warmth and generosity. He will give you his last sip of water on a parched day and his last food to a hungry child; he will give his very life for the society he loves. Danger and horror are his familiars and his sense of humour is accordingly sardonic. What the unknowing take as callousness is his defence against the unimaginable; he whistles through a career filled with graveyards.

His ethos is one of self-sacrifice and duty. He is sinfully proud of himself, of his unit and of his countryand he is unique in that his commitment to his society is Total. No other trade or profession dreams of demanding such of its members
and none could successfully try.

He loves his family dearly, sees them all too rarely and as often as not loses them to the demands of his profession. Loneliness is the price he accepts for the privilege of serving. He accounts discomfort as routine and the search for personal gain as beneath him; he has neither understanding of nor patience
for those motivated by self-interest, politics or money.

His loyalty can be absolute, but it must be purchased. Paradoxically, the only coin accepted for that payment is also loyalty. He devours life with big bites, knowing that each bite might be his last and his manners suffer thereby. He would rather die regretting the things he did than the ones he dared not try. He earns a good wage by most standards and, given the demands on him, is woefully underpaid.

He can be arrogant, thoughtless and conceited, but will spend himself, sacrifice everything for total strangers in places he cannot even pronounce. He considers political correctness a podium for self-righteous fools, but will die fighting for the rights of anyone he respects or pities.

He is a philosopher and a drudge, an assassin and a philanthropist, a servant and a leader, a disputer and a mediator, a Nobel Laureate peacekeeper and the Queen's Hitman, a brawler and a healer, best friend and worst enemy. He is a rock, a goat, a fool, a sage, a drunk, a provider, a cynic and a romantic dreamer. Above it all, he is a hero for our time.

You, pale stranger, sleep well at night only because he exists for you, the citizen who has never met him, has perhaps never thought of him and may even despise him. He is both your child and your guardian. His devotion to you is unwavering.

He is a Canadian Soldier.

Hell, he's any soldier of a true democracy. And he too is one of my brothers-in-arms.

Update: I was really rushed to get out the door when I posted this, and I neglected to credit my source for the Canadian info - in the indefatigable CAPT H. I regret the error, truly.

John | Permalink | Comments (15) | Observations on things Military
» She Who Will Be Obeyed! links with: It is Veteran's Day
» pamibe links with: Veteran's Day
» Winds of Change.NET links with: Remembrance Day, 2004
» Dust My Broom links with: A day of Remembrance
» Dizzy Girl links with: Veteran's Day: Some Gave All...