There is someone I know, someone who recently joined the military, someone who has yet to travel East to Iraq or Afghanistan. This certain someone views their service in the military as flags waving, trumpets blaring, soldiers marching along Main Street parade routes in crisply starched uniforms.
But that isn't all what service in today's military is about.
I grew up in a small home in your basic neighborhood. The house next to us was a squat, cinder block rental. Families came and went from that ugly, gray house. Sometimes our personalities clashed, sometimes not, and every now and then I would gain a friend only to say good-bye to them a year or two later. At that in-between stage of toddler to kid, I remember one family living there in particular. Pat and her husband were an older couple whose adult son, Edward, lived with them. Edward was a veteran of the Vietnam War. And Edward? Was damaged. For some reason, I liked Edward. He was brooding and had a bushy beard as dark as his personality. I would hear the adults whispering war, sad, alcohol, violent, and problems when not in Edward's presence. He was nice, but very quiet and I guess that's why I liked him.
My favorite activity as a child was to wake up my father. Working crazy shift hours as a policeman, he could frequently be found napping on the couch, sitting upright, with the newspaper across his lap. I would tiptoe up to him, hold my breath while creeping forward, and holler BOO!, simultaneously jarring his legs with my small hands. He would shudder awake, jowls quivering, and smile at me.
One afternoon, while Mom visited with Pat and her husband, I played quietly on the floor. I looked up and noticed that Edward was sound asleep in the La-Z-Boy. What I saw was someone I liked, sleeping, who needed a rude awakening. What I didn't see was a deeply disturbed man who was, every day, mentally living in Vietnam. I quietly crept forward, intent on my target, tongue in between my teeth, concentrating hard. My mother and the neighbors were oblivious to my actions up to the point I screamed BOO! When that moment occurred, they turned in surprise and horror because at that moment, they weren't seeing a little girl and a son. What they saw was a soldier and a Viet Cong.
Edward lurched forward, arms outstretched and hands reaching for my throat. He meant to kill me. In that nanosecond, he wasn't in a nondescript home in West Virginia, he was back in a wet South Asian jungle, fighting for his life. As my mother and Edward's parents shouted my name and his along with the word NO!, he came to his senses and lurched from the chair to his bedroom. I cried, not because he scared me but because I knew I had done something wrong to a friend and that friend was hurting. I have no idea of the kind of man Edward had been before Vietnam. I don't know what he's like now, or if he's even alive. What I do know is that war irrevocably changed him for the worst and that is a travesty.
This someone in my life who has recently become a member of the military has no idea of what's in store for him. I hear words like service, country, pride, and the like and this someone is right, those words are associated with military service. But this American soldier, in taking the oath of service, has accepted the responsibility for protecting America and her citizens, but has no idea of what said responsibility entails. And I worry about that. I worry for this person and their family. I worry that this person will finally take their turn in Iraq or Afghanistan and come back so changed as to not be recognizable.
I worry that I will see another Edward.