Niagara Gazette — There is a scene in the movie “The Hurt Locker” that I can’t seem to forget.
An American warrior is home from Iraq where he spent much of his time dismantling bombs, struggling to keep delicate wires from touching each other so he and his comrades might live to see another hour. The man, who has razor-sharp intellect and cool demeanor under death-defying pressure, is now home safe in the supermarket scene. But he can’t seem to wrap his mind around the baffling little question of what cereal to buy among the dozens of choices.
The little questions that busy the days of the rest of us seem ridiculous when compared to the decisions he’s made in the war zone. And this was the culture he was offering his life to preserve.
Welcome home. Thanks for your service. Now, pick a cereal if you can.
You know what I think it feels like? The day you are in a wedding, or at a funeral, while the rest of the world continues on its way, getting gas, going shopping or to work. I’ve heard, more than once, about the wonder of people engaged in days of great joy or astounding grief, who report that they marvel at how the rest of us just go on with our lives on such a life-altering day? I’ve felt it myself. You probably have too.
I feel like combat veterans must feel a bit like that when they come home battling against the ravages of war such as post traumatic stress syndrome or the hopeless lure of suicide.
I have written before that I try to remember those who are over in Iraq and Afghanistan, engaged in the deadly battles we sent them to win. But I don’t do as well as I like, joining others in complaints about modern life, too many emails, too much to do. Too many cereals to choose from.
On Veterans Day, more than any other, I think we should at least try to understand the heart of our warriors. But I’m not sure it’s possible.
My dad was a Navy man. He was on a sailing ship at the edge of the Battle of Normandy and late at night, after a single day that saw the beach darkened by the dead, he was part of a rescue effort when a troop ship sank. He helped to pull frightened young soldiers out of the sea, grabbing their hands and telling them, “It’s OK. I’ve got you,” before he pulled them to safety.
Back then, like today, they were mostly just young kids. Each one was somebody’s son or daughter, and together they went off to war with the bravado typical of the untested. As we all know, in that war as in all wars, they were never the same again.
Those of us who haven’t been to war will probably never understand the heart of a warrior. Most of us have never seen our friends blown to bits, never suffered the anxieties of wondering if today will be our last day. Never had to pick up a weapon and go out and kill at random.
The culture our soldiers have given their lives to protect sometimes seems silly and self involved to those lucky enough to return from the battlefield. We likely seem far more interested in Facebook than Afghanistan.
A couple years ago I wrote about the most important soldier in my life. It was startling for me to realize that until I actually knew a soldier “over there,” the war in the Middle East was simply an intellectual concept. Rather like talking about having kids one day compared to holding your own child in your arms.
This soldier was a young man who I’ve known since he was a baby. And he was spending his first Christmas away from home in the “community building” in Iraq. The war became personal then for me as I worried for his safety. I was sorry that the war hadn’t been more personal, long before then. But, when you are not actually at war, you can’t live each day with thoughts of war in your heart.
Yet, I am a peace lover filled with gratitude for this country’s warriors, past and present.
I’m thinking maybe today, of all days, we should take just a moment to think about our soldiers everywhere, past and present. For me that includes a nephew serving half-way around the world, in Germany, doing his part for our country.
We send them off, most often to do battle, or at least readying for battle, so we can spend our time hugging our children, raking our lawns and answering our email.
I hope we can remember them everyday. But, I think the least we can do is remember them today. Make it a goal. Hug a vet on this Veteran’s Day, if you can. If you can’t, keep your eyes open so that the next time you meet a veteran, you can personally thank them for their service. Thank them for putting their lives on the line for all of us, so we can go about our business trying to pick out a darned breakfast cereal.
Don’t you think it’s the least we can do?
Contact Features Editor Michele DeLuca at 282-2311, ext. 2263.