Four soldiers. Three I know well. One I haven’t met, yet. They cover WWII, end of the Korean War, peacetime for the United States in 1987 and now, the Iraq war.
My father, my husband, my son, a soldier in Iraq.
Yesterday, November 21, 2009 would have been the 86th birthday of my father. Yesterday, my husband went with me to buy items to put in a care box that we would send to Iraq. Yesterday, I called my son and apologized for not sending him more care boxes to remind him of how much we loved and missed him during his three years of service away from home. Yesterday, I baked in earnest and worried about the tastiest of the cookies I would be sending to a soldier serving in Iraq that is a stranger to me.
My father gloried war. His time in the Army during WWII was truly the highlight of his life. He suffered from diabetes in his later years which blinded him. He did an oral history of his entire life which became a family book. In it, he devoted 25% of the book to his time growing up in New York, less than 1% to his family, his children and his marriages of 45+ years, and about 74% to his time in the service. When he proudly handed me the book, I began to read it and exclaimed to him, “Are you kidding me??? A few paragraphs to Mom and your three children???” Slightly embarrassed he took it back and added a few more lines. His life history was more defined by his time in the service than anything else that ever happened to him.
In 1957, my husband enlisted in the Marines. Meeting him in 1980 gave me a totally different perspective on what it meant to serve in the armed forces. The few. The proud. The Marines. While my Dad loved to talk about being a soldier and killing and patriotism, John’s ability to serve and the way he discussed it have always been more about the duty and respect he had for doing his job well, rather than glorifying himself or war. His life is defined by a lifetime of experiences, including his military service.
In 1986 my son (step) fulfilled his dream to join the Army with the intention of joining the military police and eventually becoming a police officer. He was at Ft. Benning in Georgia. We missed him like crazy and I had every intention of sending him boxes and boxes of cookies, favorite foods, silly remembrances and lots of letters to remind him of how he was loved. And though he was deeply missed and loved by us, you wouldn’t have known it by my expressions through the U.S. Mail Service. Some letters, a couple of boxes, but pathetically less than my most noble of intentions. His military experience shaped his life as well and began his journey to work in law enforcement.
He called me once from basic training to talk about a man who came to talk with them. This man wrote a book called “What a Soldier Gives”. Tim insisted I read this book and he sent it to me. The story was of this man’s journey in the army during the height of the Vietnam War. What a soldier gave during the conflict. It was unflinching in its honesty and did not glorify war. But the dignity of what this man had given, at great personal cost, was evident. I was so moved, I wrote to the author, told him the impression he’d made on my son. And thanked him for his service. His story and his wisdom stayed with me.
And so yesterday I baked cookies for a young man or woman who may not have anyone sending them anything through the holidays. My investment club of 20+ years has decided to support some soldiers through one of the member’s connections. Her nephew’s company in Iraq has soldiers in it that for whatever reason, receive very little from family back home. So we’re “adopting” some of them for the holidays.
We received a list of items they need – from beef jerky to Tylenol, from socks to Q-tips. And of course goodies. Nothing says home like home baked goodies!
John and I were shopping yesterday, and while I was baking I remembered it was my Dad’s birthday. I called Tim to tell him what we were doing. And to apologize for not being there for him in a way that would leave me with no regretful thoughts. He was gracious and happy we were doing something for another soldier. But I did tell him he was one of the reasons I felt compelled to help. That he deserved more then when he as a soldier, and that if I could pay it forward, I needed to.
What a soldier gives. None of this has to do with my personal feelings about the conflicts our country is currently involved in. It’s about remembering someone far far from home that needs to know they are not alone. That what a soldier gives, is not wasted or forgotten. And we need to bring them home alive and well.
If you have the opportunity, give back. Support someone you love. Support a stranger in honor of those you love. And know that what a solider gives can be honored by what you do – even if their individual service is long past.
With luck and good packing, our Christmas boxes will arrive intact. The cookies will not have crumbled. And a soldier will feel a little closer to home.