I have no stoic message to tell the world how grateful they should feel. There’s no pining over lost years and an America of better days, more worthy of the service of the spartan few who defend her.
It’s all out of me now. At least the parts that should be. All that’s left now is a million memories of what once was. And will never again be for me. But forever has been for the others that came before me.
And will be for others yet to come.
It’s walking off the bus in whatever version of bootcamp you went through and being screamed at by a stranger like you’ve done something worse than anyone has ever done in the history of history, and no matter how sure you were that it wouldn’t scare you, it did.
It’s the first night. At lights out. Alone with your thoughts for the first time. Asking yourself the same questions everyone asks. What have I done? What have I gotten myself into? Will it always be this bad?
It’s seeing your parents when it’s over. And the look that you’ve never seen before from your dad. And the different one from you mom.
It’s jumping out of a plane, or landing one, or being drowned in the combat swimmer pool for the first time when you’re whole life you’ve lied to yourself that you knew you could do it. And then you did. And for the rest of your life you’d refer to yourself as something else.
It’s waving goodbye to your wife and kids on the tarmac and knowing you should be crushed. But you’re not. Because you’ve been numb for weeks, going through the motions at home.
Its the strange calming feeling of simplicity in that moment the ship leaves the harbor into the open ocean or the wheels leave the runway, knowing that nothing else matters. Nothing else is on you. Just the work. The everyday world and all its problems belong to someone else.
It’s fuck you DFAC Thanks Giving dinner. And the master at arms dressed as Santa Claus and fuck him too.
It’s the smell of the armory. The smell of the engine room. The smell of a place where they still burn trash.
It’s knowing that talking to your kids on the phone is harder than not talking to them, and all that comes with that realization.
It’s not pretending you’re not scared any more.
It’s sitting down for the first time when you’ve stood for 20 hours.
It’s what long humps do to your feet. And how baby wipes can be currency.
It’s bad food and stories of worse food.
It’s your first platoon, division, detachment or whatever. It’s loving every one of them 20 years later and more as every year passes. Even the ones you hated.
It’s being cold and wet. And knowing that since the Roman phalanx to the age of sale to the frozen camps of Valley Forge to the Trenches of France to the mountains over the Panjir Valley, cold and wet has been the same soul sucking monster for every soldier or sailor that’s ever felt it.
It’s how exciting a new magazine you haven’t read 300 times makes you.
It’s how much the mail matters.
It’s wanting the deployment to be over for so long, you’ve forgotten how to want anything else.
It’s losing an indestructible warrior to combat. And the feeling of vulnerability in the realization that, in the end, we’re all just cells, no matter how tough.
It’s seeing your wife and kids on the tarmac when you land. And knowing the joy that’s supposed to wash over you. And knowing it won’t. Because joy is something you’ve forgotten how to feel for a little while.
It’s trusting that it will come back, despite all evidence to the contrary.
It’s the first quiet night at home, with carpet under your feet. And realizing that if military service is anything at all, it’s life without carpet.
It’s talking on the radio in your sleep for a few weeks when you get back.
It’s knowing you’re going to have to do it again.
It’s taking off the uniform when it’s over. And though you promised you wouldn’t let it, realizing that it wrecks you.
It’s one day, far away from the life, typing away on a computer on a Sunday morning over a cup of coffee, safe, dry and warm, while your kids cycle through Youtube videos in the TV room and the smell of breakfast wafts out of the kitchen, in a scene of comfort that filled your dreams for endless nights in far off lands, wishing for just a second, you could do it all again.
It’s the common life once lived. It’s what we pay tribute to this weekend.
Happy Veterans Day.