I published this last year on Veteran's Day and it's still one of my favorite posts that I've ever written. Veteran's Day is such a community event, but my favorite veteran is the one that always offers me a glass of wine when I arrive at his house on the weekends.
Thank you, Dad.
When I was in sixth grade I heard a voice on the radio telling us something that we'd all known was going to happen. I think the way he phrased it was something like,
"Well, we're really at war now folks. It's started. It's official. War..."
War. His voice was heavy with concern and anticipation. I briefly wondered if our family was going to plant a Victory Garden, like I'd seen the families in my textbooks do.
I remember standing there and thinking,
"Oh. This is kind of a big deal. And my Dad is probably going to war. My dad is going to war. AAAUUUGHHH MY DAD IS GOING TO WAAAAARRRRRRR."
The last military engagement authorized by Congress had been Vietnam. The Korean War ended in 1953. In 1991, we had not kicked Saddam Hussien's ass even once yet. The limited context I had wasn't very positive. It would be later that evening or maybe the next day before we saw missiles light up the Iraqi sky like fireworks on CNN. It would be several more days before everyone started to make jokes about how much Iraqi ass our military was kicking.
Point being, on January 17, 1991 it had been a while since widespread scary shit had happened to the Marines. But all of the previous scary shit from WWII, Vietnam and Korea had made its way into my textbooks in all of the 4-color glory that McGraw-Hill could get the State of California to sign off on.
It wasn't gory but, you know, message received: War is some scary shit, it'll last a long time and a lot of people will probably die.
At least, that's what my 12-year-old brain got out of it. Up until that point, I'd never really considered that my father might actually see combat during his tenure in the Marine Corps. I'd never had any reason to think otherwise.
Besides a lack of recent war, January 17, 1991 was before the modern day crazies and terrorists started showing up. It was before Columbine, Oklahoma City, September 11, Virginia Tech and the horror that happened just days ago at Ft. Hood.
Can you even remember what it was like to feel insulated like I did in 1991? Can you recall what it felt like to not be on edge and wonder about that freaky dude you just saw? Do you remember a time when you thought everything was gonna be ok - no matter what?
Sure, I was young and naive, but compared to today's 12-year old? I might as well have had the worldview of Bubble Girl. There was no internet. We didn't have cable. I wasn't allowed to watch PG-13 movies (As my mother so pointedly reminded me, I was not 13 yet.) War-wise, life had been good in the United States for a while in 1991.
War, an official, real WAR felt very disconcerting to pre-teen me.
I often toggle between my 12-year-old self and my 30-year-old self when I hear people, the media and politicians talk about our current war. What I often consider is that it hasn't been 8 years; it's really been 18. Our troops and their families have been invested in this for 18 years - long enough to turn a newborn into a college freshman.
That's an awful lot of troops and families to thank today for their recent service, in addition to those who have served in the past. Thank you.
My father was deployed from May 1990 to March 1991. He was supposed to go to Okinawa for 6 months but that didn't really play out as planned.
In July he performed rescue operations in Manila after a 7.7 magnitude earthquake. He assisted primarily at Christian College, where a six-story building completely collapsed and approximately 250 students and teachers were trapped inside.
Nope, no cell phones.
He was in Saudi Arabia by January 1991 and led ground combat operations as part of Task Force Grizzly.
Their mission was to be a foot-mobile infiltration force tasked with breaching enemy minefields. This means they spent a lot of time walking, in the desert, with a full pack, sleeping in holes and trying not to step on mines.
The sign says, "Better Holes and Gardens, Hole of the Month."
They made their jokes where they could.
They covered approximately 45 miles, carrying a combat load, over eight days. They took 68 prisoners of war when an entire company of Iraqis surrendered to them. When it was time to come home, two Marines had been killed in action and 14 wounded. A very detailed description of the entire mission can be found here.
When he finally came home, safe and sound, in March 1991 it took all day for the battalion to make the few hours drive back to the base. We thought they'd be there by lunch but it was long after dark when they arrived.
The cause of the massive delay? The highway between the base and airport was jammed with joyful, thankful, ebullient people who reached into the bus to shake their hands and say thank you. FOR MILES AND MILES.
These thankful people passed buckets of fried chicken, cases of beer, bags of potato chips, dozens of cookies and whole cakes into the buses for the Marines. Keep in mind that they had been in the desert for months with no television, internet or newspapers, fighting a war on foot. They had no idea what the mood was at home or how they would be received upon their return.
To say they were surprised by the reception would be a massive understatement.
I know that almost every family has a service member they're proud of. As the great military tradition in this country continues, there are very few families out there who don't have a somebody deserving of great thanks and respect on this Veteran's Day.
It's just that I am so privileged to claim him as our Marine.
Thank you, Dad. Thanks for spending your career, the prime of your life, working to save and better the lives of so many people who may never know the freedoms that I do, but are perhaps a little bit closer after you crossed their path.