14 January 2010

War Is Hell

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.

16 comments:

HEATHER said...

Email me his first name so I can add him to my prayers.

coalminer said...

war is terrible. i feel bad for that boy u spoke of though, my brothers in iraq right now, on his 4th tour, he complains how "the world has left him behind" here in good ol west viriginia. his 4th tour ends in april with yet another tour for Afghanistan pending in the fall. wish your friend luck though, heard boot camp is worse than the conflicts lol.

Halala mama said...

I understand what you mean - I watch some of my former kids enlist and I wonder if they really GET it? I often think not.

Hilly said...

I often think the same thing when young people enlist. A young friend of mine told me that he wants to join the army because he has no future without it. In the old days, I would have looked at that as being responsible and now, I cringe when I hear it.

LceeL said...

Viet Nam left scars on a lot of us - your Edward is just one of many. When I was a kid, I was gung ho and hard chargin' and all that stuff. No longer. All I see is young people dying. Our young people. Their young people. I see parents left to do nothing more than cry over the loss of their children. Children left to cry over the loss of their parent. Their young parent.

When is it going to be 'Enough'? When are we going to find more intelligent ways to settle differences? When are we going to stop killing each other?


My Word Verification is 'renis' - when I first saw it - it looked like .... something else.

Willow said...

I can relate to this story very well. As a child of a vietnam veteran, my brother and I learned very early that surprising him meant you had to duck! It ended up being a game to us as children. My father suffers from PTSD from his experience and sees counselors still on a very regular basis, he's also a recovering alcoholic. We have lost many great men in wars throughout the ages but Vietnam and the current war are leaving the biggest scars imaginable. My father attends group where he meets our newest war veterans and has made me very aware of the state of our men in arms. I can only hope this country treats them better than the Vietnam vets! I was your friend the best and hope he comes back whole!

Willow said...

I wish your friend the best...not was! :)

Deb said...

I know an Edward. I am horrified that so many of my friends will turn into them when they return from Iraq. Very powerful post.

Annie said...

My new brother-in-law left for Ft Hood last week - leaving my sister and their 2 week old baby for the next year. Your prayers are my prayers.

I, too, had an Edward in my family, but he was in Iraq in '92, not Vietnam.

Feel free to email me.

sybil law said...

Heartbreaking! I hope your friend is safe and comes back as undamaged as possible.
My mom had an uncle who was in the Korean War, and he never talked again when he came home. Sad, sad stuff.

Employee No. 3699 said...

You are right to worry. So many ‘join’ with a preconceived notion of what to expect and what they can do. They are valiant and I applaud them… and we need them; but the consequences can be devastating. By representing and fighting for what our country believes in they risk death and/or permanent physical and/or psychological damage.

You are right to worry about your friend; but please tell him/her that I thank them from the bottom of my heart.

Faiqa said...

:(
Seriously. That's all I've got.

Tracey - Just Another Mommy Blog said...

I know how you feel. My father had many nights where he would unconsciously fling my mother from their bed to escape the incoming attacks in his dreams. I don't know that you ever CAN "get over" going to war...

Patois said...

It is horrible beyond belief. I am a decade older than you, and I lived on the AFB in Hawaii that all the newly released POWs from Vietnam stopped as their first US stop on their way home in '73. I was part of the welcoming home gang. I met too many Edwards.

I will hope that your guy escapes relatively unscathed.

Not Afraid To Use It said...

Thank you for sharing this story with all of us. As you can see, Edward touches people far beyond your little town.

Muskrat said...

I doubt he'll be another Edward, but he won't be the same when he comes back, that's for sure.

I spent a few months after the first trip over yonder in which I nearly killed myself with high risk behavior. I still jump in a rather ridiculous manner if startled, which used to amuse my coworkers until I stopped having coworkers last April. PTSD sucks.