Swaddled in the safety of my American life, I watch my husband glued to the news on television and the ‘conflicts’ that play out at 6 o’clock each evening. If I never saw a news broadcast again I wouldn’t miss it and I wonder at his intent fascination. I remember that other conflict, when I was just 19, naive as hell and married to a helicopter pilot.
The news back in 1967 was never good, a lot of my friends died that year, and other friends were changed forever. Pilots tended to party like rock stars stateside and have short life spans in Nam. Back in the 60’s I learned to mistrust both the media and politics. I’m still a true child of the 60’s, I’m cynical and I assume the talking heads are lying for their paychecks.
Times change, now we have the Middle East. Conflicts go on and soldiers’ deaths just become numbers. As a nation we become numb to the sheer size and length of the mess we find ourselves in. I look for good news, I love seeing the dads and moms come home from the Middle East and surprise their kids, their shocked joyful faces on television make me cry.
I earned my own version of stripes as I grew up the daughter of a soldier and then married a soldier. I never went to a regular doctor until I was 20 years old. Our doctor was the base dispensary and our doctors were Captain X and Major Y, not doctor X. I even have my own set of dog tags that were issued to me when we went to live in Germany after the war.
My grocery store was the commissary, and I am particularly proud of having been sent home from the commissary at Ft Rucker in August of 1967 because my skirt was too short! A blushing young MP ascertained that fact with a ruler. Yes, the skirt was wayyy above the knees. I looked and dressed like Twiggy then. As a California girl driving a yellow Barracuda convertible and always in a mini dress, I caused more than a few problems on that Fort. Somewhere I have pictures to prove it too.
Life hasn’t always been watching platoons march into a ditch because of my short skirts. Time flowed on and life changed over the years. I had children and stopped wearing mini dresses, but I never have been able to give up fast cars…
After he got out of high school, my oldest son joined the army. It was what he needed at the time, a mother who carried a gun, also known as a drill seargeant. Corey was proud to be in the 82nd Airborne jumping out of perfectly good planes. He jumped out of one during Desert Storm, the sixth one in to Kuwait. I didn’t know he had been shipped out until I picked up the newspaper and saw the headline. It was top secret and the families didn’t hear from their loved ones for weeks. Fear is knowing your child, your baby, is in harm’s way and being helpless.
I’ve been a military daughter, wife and a mother. Mother was the hardest of all. I have packed most of those memories away like mementoes in a mental box. I knew they were there but I didn’t have to shake them out and look at them to know every wrinkle and tear in the fabric of my life from those years.
Today, I got reminded of how it feels to be on this side of the war and feeling helpless. As an American civilian, I have access to bath tubs and curling irons and fast food. Cell phones that work are part of my life. My dear friend and fellow troublemaker, T. ,was doing my hair this afternoon when she got a text from a friend in Afghanistan, he was supposed to come home in April, but he’s still there and now it’s May.
His text said he wished he could hear her voice but his mobile phone got broken in a fire fight last week so he couldn’t call, only text. He said he had some shrapnel in his thigh but he was doing okay. He said, “You there?” typing across the miles. I could feel he just wanted to know life was still intact here; he wanted to hear about American normal so he could forget for a few minutes. T. typed a reply and asked him how he was doing and if he was okay.
His answer broke my heart in two. “I’m okay, but I can’t stop thinking about the guys in my platoon that were alive last week.” I cannot even imagine how that feels. Its almost too big to wrap my head around.
He said now with the shrapnel in his thigh an incompetent guy had taken his place in the platoon and he was worried, if his guys got hurt he felt like it would be his fault for not being there.
I had tears in my eyes, but I don’t have any answers. I don’t know how to end this conflict to guarantee the safety of America and Americans. I only know that this is a reminder every American needs. Out of sight is not out of mind, bring them all home safe, and will the last one out please turn out the lights? That line about the lights is an old joke from my guys in the 17th Air Cav. Its still true, I wish it didn’t have to be.