Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Death Becomes Us All

It is dark and traffic moves on the street as usual. Slowly soldiers begin to congregate near the road. As the crowd begins to grow something strange happens. Without any noticeable cue the soldiers line the road.

Up one side and down the other is a wide variety. There are Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines. There are Americans, French, Italians, Poles, Brits, Hungarians, Germans, New Zealanders and Australians. There are Whites, Blacks, Asians, Native Americans, Maori, Aborigine and all manner of Europeans. They all line the road in all variations of military uniforms.

For now they just stand there. Some chat amongst themselves, one group is quite boisterous. Others just stand there in silence, hands in front or behind. Birds in the trees nearby chirp loudly, there are thousands of them. As more and more soldiers gather the birds get louder and louder. The soldiers stretch across the road preventing traffic from passing. In the distance are flashing blue lights.

Gradually the soldiers start to quiet down. There is still some chatter and the birds continue their cacophony of song. As the lights get closer the soldiers all become silent. The birds, almost as if commanded by God, become silent. The vehicle with the blue lights passes and the soldiers all come to the position of attention. Behind the blue lights is a single HMMWV. The soldiers all render the hand salute of their nation. Those of British colonies with the palm facing out, the rest with the palm facing down.

In the HMMWV is a shiny steal box covered in an American flag. On either side are four soldiers. They are the friends of the one in the box. Behind the HMMWV a pickup truck follows. On the back of the truck a soldier stands with a video camera. This is the only camera of any kind allowed.

The tape will follow the soldier as he goes home for the last time. Regardless of anything else that soldier's family will know that as their son headed home he was surrounded by his other family that shared everything with him up until the very last. They will know that hundred of servicemen from many different countries turned out in the middle of the night because they appreciated his sacrifice. They will know that because that was the only camera allowed that they will share that with the soldiers present and no one else. No one will ever be able to show their family a picture of that evening. It is something special shared only between them.

As the HMMWV passes something passes through the mind of each and every soldier standing there. Most will think of how that could have easily been them in that box, that all it would take is one random mortar round or rocket. Some will think of the pain or agony that person could have gone through.

There are a few though who have seen death up close and personal and realize that dying is the easy part. The hard part is staying behind. The hard part is holding someone as they die and lying to them, telling them it will be ok. In the end it always is. The hard part is getting a knock on the door and being told that your son or husband or father is dead. The hard part is not knowing what happened but knowing that you don't want to know.

The soldiers in that line who know death think about that as that HMMWV passes. They feel not for the guy in the box, instead their heart hurts for the guys on either side of him in the HMMWV. They feel for the mother who, probably only hours ago, got the news that no mother should ever have to receive. Most of all they feel for the children who will be left behind, some too young to know what their life will miss out on because of what was happening while they were eating their Cheerios. If only it were possible to ever give them back that ignorance.

Those who pondered their own existence were the ones chatting as they waited. Because to chat with the guy next to you, what some might consider irreverent, is to not dwell on what's coming. Those who pondered the ones left behind are those who stood silent as they waited. To stand silent is to live in the moment knowing what it really is.

The vehicles pass, the soldiers drop their salutes and everyone begins to move off to whatever they were doing before that, again some in silence and some chatting and again for the same reasons. However, whether or not they have ever lost someone, whether or not they have ever gotten that news and whether or not they have ever lied to a friend and told him it would be ok, they have all now experienced death.

Not a one of them will ever be the same.


Bag Blog said...

That was an excellent post. I recently saw a clip from Kevin Bacon's new movie "Taking Chance" and I could not even make it through the clip without crying. I hope lots of people see the movie and learn what sacrifice is and how our military makes huge sacrifices every day for them.

Some day when you are an old man, you will stand at a memorial and place your fingers over the name of a soldier who stood beside you and fought along side of you, but who made the ultimate sacrifice. You will never forget.

CJ said...

What I feel is a mixture of pride and aching. Aching for the loss of one so dear, and yet pride that we have men who believe in freedom this much. Thank you for posting this. Its a beautiful piece.

David M said...

The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post From the Front: 03/11/2009 News and Personal dispatches from the front and the home front.

MaryAnn said...

Thank you. This is beautifully written.