Old eyes, new war

The center of strength and love in my life is my family.  Pat and I had our kids early in our married life and now our three wonderful daughters have children of their own, and better yet...they all live close by.  When we get together for dinner or other events, I find myself listening more to them now than I ever remember doing before.  Each of them has a distinct and well thought out view of important matters in life, and none of them shrinks from voicing it as circumstances dictate.  I love them dearly for all that chutzpa, clarity and focus. 

Recent national events, particularly our presidential elections and the War in Iraq, have electrified me to such a degree that I began to write short stories or essays that I sent out to a number of friends and relatives.  Cleverly, yet unwittingly, I spoke of my present feelings and combined them with a long suppressed glimpse into my war time experiences and reflections from Vietnam.   I had no idea that these thoughts and words, long held deep inside me, would expose a part of me that my daughters are still now and have been reluctant to question.  Even to this day, they will remind me of things I said to them at times past using clipped, angry words that confused them and left them wondering about was behind the curtain that momentarily flashed open and just as quickly, closed.

Today's technology and instant reporting capabilities have expanded the size of my 'family' many times over.  There was a time when I would have changed the channel as war time footage was shown on the evening   news.   I had seen enough of this and the outcome was always the same...God Almighty, when will they have had their fill of these scenes?  Don't they get it... it's NOT news to US.  What they captured on film and tape was on our utilities, in our nostrils, under our fingernails and left images never to be erased from our minds.  Collectively, they defined the place I wandered back to when guilt for having survived it while others had not left me hopelessly marooned in a wasteland where no one listened or understood.  How could they?  That place was for 'members only'.

Still, I have become the doting parent, curious to see how they do when I am not with them.  Now, I want to watch the news, I want to hear the words as they yell at their platoons and squads and hear the rounds being fired.  The adrenaline surges in me.  They are Marines... a part of my family... always in my prayers... always bragged about... always faithful.  I wear tee shirts with the Eagle Globe and Anchor on them.   In my dreams, I'm still up to it...but not really any more.  I'm one of the Old Corps now.  One of my USMC tee shirts reads, 'The older we get, and the better we were'.  It makes me chuckle, but there is a brutal honesty in those words.

I read letters and emails from guys who are in Iraq now.  Many are graphic and give the reader a shot by shot description of where they were that night or that day.  You can smell it; it's that close...it's that real.

By contrast, a cable channel will occasionally interview some Marine veterans from the Pacific Campaign during World War II.  The interviewer will ask them to recall specific battles such as the invasion of the island of Iwo  Jima.   Now, thick glasses, white hair, bent bodies, some walking with canes, project images far different from the warriors they had been when fiercely storming those bloody beaches years ago.   They still, however, have vivid recollections of those times, who they were with and what they did. 

There was a time that they could keep their emotions in check and could speak of those men with whom they served openly without quivering lips and cracking voices.  Today, that has changed.  They are the survivors, all that are left, and soon... they will be gone.  With them will go the last eyewitnesses.  As aged memories race back over the years, they ask for a moment to compose themselves as tears well up and spill from their clear blue eyes.  A crooked, arthritic finger reaches up to wipe the moisture from their cheek.   The capsule in which they had sealed their feelings and memories had been pierced and out poured the images they had filed away for so long, even from those closest to them.  War is like that.  Like a pushy salesman who will not leave a doorstep without the order, it waits, biding its time until, in a single powerful leap, it can spring forth and  snatch laughter and happiness from those who had been absent from its deathly lair for too long.  'I own you', is the mantra it hums over and over again.

History repeats itself.  I now know this.  I am fully involved with this cycle of remembering those times and agonizing   over the ongoing struggle of surviving and enjoying a second chance to be with those I love while wondering that maybe my good fortune was paid for by the loss of another.  One whose name I will never know.  One whose family has the flag, folded into a tight triangle, and tucked away in a place they rarely visit any more.

Watching these young Marines in Iraq do what Marines have always done when called to arms, reminds me that each of them, while cavalier now, their view of life and danger laced with bravado and the false sense of immortality that youth spawns, will one day come to face these memories themselves.  They will be no different from me and countless others who wore the Eagle, Globe and Anchor in times of national strife. 

They will remember those times and those places.  They will alternate between wanting to go back to the sounds of the guns and facing the reality that that time is past.  They will embrace the brotherhood and their bond to the Corps and its sons and daughters now under fire and mentally wander around the perimeter of the action asking if any one needs a hand or some advice.  Then they will step back and know that fresh new legions of the young ones have taken up the challenge and will carry forward until they too become too old to continue.  Then, it will be their turn to look through old eyes at a new war.

Semper Fidelis.

Dave St. John is a Captain, USMCR, and is a Vietnam Veteran, having served in Chu Lai, RVN, 1966—'67

The center of strength and love in my life is my family.  Pat and I had our kids early in our married life and now our three wonderful daughters have children of their own, and better yet...they all live close by.  When we get together for dinner or other events, I find myself listening more to them now than I ever remember doing before.  Each of them has a distinct and well thought out view of important matters in life, and none of them shrinks from voicing it as circumstances dictate.  I love them dearly for all that chutzpa, clarity and focus. 

Recent national events, particularly our presidential elections and the War in Iraq, have electrified me to such a degree that I began to write short stories or essays that I sent out to a number of friends and relatives.  Cleverly, yet unwittingly, I spoke of my present feelings and combined them with a long suppressed glimpse into my war time experiences and reflections from Vietnam.   I had no idea that these thoughts and words, long held deep inside me, would expose a part of me that my daughters are still now and have been reluctant to question.  Even to this day, they will remind me of things I said to them at times past using clipped, angry words that confused them and left them wondering about was behind the curtain that momentarily flashed open and just as quickly, closed.

Today's technology and instant reporting capabilities have expanded the size of my 'family' many times over.  There was a time when I would have changed the channel as war time footage was shown on the evening   news.   I had seen enough of this and the outcome was always the same...God Almighty, when will they have had their fill of these scenes?  Don't they get it... it's NOT news to US.  What they captured on film and tape was on our utilities, in our nostrils, under our fingernails and left images never to be erased from our minds.  Collectively, they defined the place I wandered back to when guilt for having survived it while others had not left me hopelessly marooned in a wasteland where no one listened or understood.  How could they?  That place was for 'members only'.

Still, I have become the doting parent, curious to see how they do when I am not with them.  Now, I want to watch the news, I want to hear the words as they yell at their platoons and squads and hear the rounds being fired.  The adrenaline surges in me.  They are Marines... a part of my family... always in my prayers... always bragged about... always faithful.  I wear tee shirts with the Eagle Globe and Anchor on them.   In my dreams, I'm still up to it...but not really any more.  I'm one of the Old Corps now.  One of my USMC tee shirts reads, 'The older we get, and the better we were'.  It makes me chuckle, but there is a brutal honesty in those words.

I read letters and emails from guys who are in Iraq now.  Many are graphic and give the reader a shot by shot description of where they were that night or that day.  You can smell it; it's that close...it's that real.

By contrast, a cable channel will occasionally interview some Marine veterans from the Pacific Campaign during World War II.  The interviewer will ask them to recall specific battles such as the invasion of the island of Iwo  Jima.   Now, thick glasses, white hair, bent bodies, some walking with canes, project images far different from the warriors they had been when fiercely storming those bloody beaches years ago.   They still, however, have vivid recollections of those times, who they were with and what they did. 

There was a time that they could keep their emotions in check and could speak of those men with whom they served openly without quivering lips and cracking voices.  Today, that has changed.  They are the survivors, all that are left, and soon... they will be gone.  With them will go the last eyewitnesses.  As aged memories race back over the years, they ask for a moment to compose themselves as tears well up and spill from their clear blue eyes.  A crooked, arthritic finger reaches up to wipe the moisture from their cheek.   The capsule in which they had sealed their feelings and memories had been pierced and out poured the images they had filed away for so long, even from those closest to them.  War is like that.  Like a pushy salesman who will not leave a doorstep without the order, it waits, biding its time until, in a single powerful leap, it can spring forth and  snatch laughter and happiness from those who had been absent from its deathly lair for too long.  'I own you', is the mantra it hums over and over again.

History repeats itself.  I now know this.  I am fully involved with this cycle of remembering those times and agonizing   over the ongoing struggle of surviving and enjoying a second chance to be with those I love while wondering that maybe my good fortune was paid for by the loss of another.  One whose name I will never know.  One whose family has the flag, folded into a tight triangle, and tucked away in a place they rarely visit any more.

Watching these young Marines in Iraq do what Marines have always done when called to arms, reminds me that each of them, while cavalier now, their view of life and danger laced with bravado and the false sense of immortality that youth spawns, will one day come to face these memories themselves.  They will be no different from me and countless others who wore the Eagle, Globe and Anchor in times of national strife. 

They will remember those times and those places.  They will alternate between wanting to go back to the sounds of the guns and facing the reality that that time is past.  They will embrace the brotherhood and their bond to the Corps and its sons and daughters now under fire and mentally wander around the perimeter of the action asking if any one needs a hand or some advice.  Then they will step back and know that fresh new legions of the young ones have taken up the challenge and will carry forward until they too become too old to continue.  Then, it will be their turn to look through old eyes at a new war.

Semper Fidelis.

Dave St. John is a Captain, USMCR, and is a Vietnam Veteran, having served in Chu Lai, RVN, 1966—'67