Where do we get them?

Their faces are becoming more familiar to us now. Young men, grown old beyond their years, their faces framed in Kevlar helmets and desert pattern camouflage covers, appear in magazines and newspapers routinely now.  Running through rubble and streets choked with discarded, blackened cars and piles of rocks which used to be walls of buildings, they are our sons, husbands, fathers and brothers. 

Raw footage of video clips showing them pouring automatic weapons fire into distant buildings and whooping it up when a target is hit by their wire—guided munitions creeps into websites and news outlets everywhere.  They prove all of the pundits and strategists dead ass wrong with every round they fire and every street and city block they take back from the terrorists and their enablers.

Cable news channels schedule early morning interviews with many of them who have been wounded and are in various hospitals recuperating.  Here in these sanitized settings, their youth and vigor seem to return.  They answer questions from news folks who seem almost awe struck to be in their presence and embarrassed to be making mundane inquiries about how they are doing.  These men answer the questions in shy and straightforward terms, hoping not to say something stupid that their buddies won't let them forget when they see the reruns of the newscast.  For those whose wounds are not totally debilitating, their future is defined by how soon they can get back to their units in the field.  They are impatient to return to the action again.   Strange desires for most of us to understand...

What is it that they see that so many of us safe and secure in the States don't?  They seem like such an anomaly in an era when so many of their stateside civilian peers seem committed to nothing for which they would endanger their lives. Vastly underpaid, deployed for longer periods of time than has been the norm for our armed forces, they persevere and thrive on this adversity.  What makes them tick? 

Are they the vanguard of a generation who has come face—to—face with a threat to our nation and has decided to stop it far from our shores?  Is this too noble a conclusion on our part?  Are they the vanguard of a generation who will begin recognizing true heroism long absent from our country's landscape and persona?  Are they the hope for a national commitment  that would end the factionalism that has fractured so many of our thoughts, actions and politics for so long? 

Regardless of one's position on the salient issues facing us in a rapidly changing world, one must take a deep breath and swell with pride at what they do in the name of liberty and freeing others from oppression.  How is it that it is so clear for them and so murky for so many of us?  Have they found something in their young lives that they have deemed to be worth serious, permanent injury or even death in the dusty, filthy streets of a country whose people seem to alternate between welcoming them and trying to kill them?

I ask myself these questions frequently.  My memory is short, however.  In every moment of history, when events conspire to create tribulations, the solutions to which are bravery and steadfastness beyond the pale, THEY have stepped forward.  They come from all over. They are not heroes, they are not extraordinary, they do their job and when it is over, all they want is to slip back into obscurity and pick up the split ends of an unfinished life.  They are average Americans.  Just ask them and they will confirm this.  'Ain't no big thing, just doin' my job' is the standard reply. 

 Many of us have had the honor and privilege to serve with them. They join all the branches of the service looking for a place to fit in and do what they are good at doing.  They are not part of some neatly compartmentalized generation's title.  They are just ...well...themselves. 

One minute they have just barely made the grades to graduate high school or maybe just completed the requirements to graduate from one of the service academies and the next minute they are leading a platoon, flying a medevac helicopter bringing wounded back to the rear, or maybe they're wrapped in bandoliers of linked ammo pouring fire into a window of a building several blocks away. Yes, and sadly, maybe they are the ones being zipped into body bags, the first step on a somber and moving one way trip home.  Another name to be etched in a stone somewhere in a place where someone close will bring flowers periodically and remember a past tender moment with them, speaking in hushed tones as if this young, deceased  hero were listening and feeling the same loneliness as they are.

The pictures and videos will remain fixed in time and space. Slowly, inexorably, the survivors will move on and change. Physically they will become older, wiser, more reflective, and their time for action will pass.  They will remember these events as if they had just happened in their minds.  The sights and smells will gradually fade from their memories, but the trauma and shock, that which took their youth will remain.  It will take its toll and then be done with them, rising up from time to time when summoned by circumstances.  And one day, they will be cleaning out an old footlocker, drawer or trunk and the pictures and videos will spill out.  Making sure they are alone, they will study the images they had buried long ago and it will all rush back from the deep recesses of their psyches.  Tears will distort what they see.  Vividly, they will look at the figures and see how much time has gone by.  Man, I can't believe I was ever that skinny, they'll murmur.  What was his name...can't remember...it'll come to me...KIA...yeah, I remember now.

Perhaps, as they pour over the old memories, a new threat will be facing our country.  Perhaps they will have spent time in front of the tube looking for updates and status reports, wishing secretly that they were back there again, but knowing that those times are gone forever.  They'll see the young faces, new faces,      and the stolen youth and wonder aloud as did we of them....Where do we get them?

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

Their faces are becoming more familiar to us now. Young men, grown old beyond their years, their faces framed in Kevlar helmets and desert pattern camouflage covers, appear in magazines and newspapers routinely now.  Running through rubble and streets choked with discarded, blackened cars and piles of rocks which used to be walls of buildings, they are our sons, husbands, fathers and brothers. 

Raw footage of video clips showing them pouring automatic weapons fire into distant buildings and whooping it up when a target is hit by their wire—guided munitions creeps into websites and news outlets everywhere.  They prove all of the pundits and strategists dead ass wrong with every round they fire and every street and city block they take back from the terrorists and their enablers.

Cable news channels schedule early morning interviews with many of them who have been wounded and are in various hospitals recuperating.  Here in these sanitized settings, their youth and vigor seem to return.  They answer questions from news folks who seem almost awe struck to be in their presence and embarrassed to be making mundane inquiries about how they are doing.  These men answer the questions in shy and straightforward terms, hoping not to say something stupid that their buddies won't let them forget when they see the reruns of the newscast.  For those whose wounds are not totally debilitating, their future is defined by how soon they can get back to their units in the field.  They are impatient to return to the action again.   Strange desires for most of us to understand...

What is it that they see that so many of us safe and secure in the States don't?  They seem like such an anomaly in an era when so many of their stateside civilian peers seem committed to nothing for which they would endanger their lives. Vastly underpaid, deployed for longer periods of time than has been the norm for our armed forces, they persevere and thrive on this adversity.  What makes them tick? 

Are they the vanguard of a generation who has come face—to—face with a threat to our nation and has decided to stop it far from our shores?  Is this too noble a conclusion on our part?  Are they the vanguard of a generation who will begin recognizing true heroism long absent from our country's landscape and persona?  Are they the hope for a national commitment  that would end the factionalism that has fractured so many of our thoughts, actions and politics for so long? 

Regardless of one's position on the salient issues facing us in a rapidly changing world, one must take a deep breath and swell with pride at what they do in the name of liberty and freeing others from oppression.  How is it that it is so clear for them and so murky for so many of us?  Have they found something in their young lives that they have deemed to be worth serious, permanent injury or even death in the dusty, filthy streets of a country whose people seem to alternate between welcoming them and trying to kill them?

I ask myself these questions frequently.  My memory is short, however.  In every moment of history, when events conspire to create tribulations, the solutions to which are bravery and steadfastness beyond the pale, THEY have stepped forward.  They come from all over. They are not heroes, they are not extraordinary, they do their job and when it is over, all they want is to slip back into obscurity and pick up the split ends of an unfinished life.  They are average Americans.  Just ask them and they will confirm this.  'Ain't no big thing, just doin' my job' is the standard reply. 

 Many of us have had the honor and privilege to serve with them. They join all the branches of the service looking for a place to fit in and do what they are good at doing.  They are not part of some neatly compartmentalized generation's title.  They are just ...well...themselves. 

One minute they have just barely made the grades to graduate high school or maybe just completed the requirements to graduate from one of the service academies and the next minute they are leading a platoon, flying a medevac helicopter bringing wounded back to the rear, or maybe they're wrapped in bandoliers of linked ammo pouring fire into a window of a building several blocks away. Yes, and sadly, maybe they are the ones being zipped into body bags, the first step on a somber and moving one way trip home.  Another name to be etched in a stone somewhere in a place where someone close will bring flowers periodically and remember a past tender moment with them, speaking in hushed tones as if this young, deceased  hero were listening and feeling the same loneliness as they are.

The pictures and videos will remain fixed in time and space. Slowly, inexorably, the survivors will move on and change. Physically they will become older, wiser, more reflective, and their time for action will pass.  They will remember these events as if they had just happened in their minds.  The sights and smells will gradually fade from their memories, but the trauma and shock, that which took their youth will remain.  It will take its toll and then be done with them, rising up from time to time when summoned by circumstances.  And one day, they will be cleaning out an old footlocker, drawer or trunk and the pictures and videos will spill out.  Making sure they are alone, they will study the images they had buried long ago and it will all rush back from the deep recesses of their psyches.  Tears will distort what they see.  Vividly, they will look at the figures and see how much time has gone by.  Man, I can't believe I was ever that skinny, they'll murmur.  What was his name...can't remember...it'll come to me...KIA...yeah, I remember now.

Perhaps, as they pour over the old memories, a new threat will be facing our country.  Perhaps they will have spent time in front of the tube looking for updates and status reports, wishing secretly that they were back there again, but knowing that those times are gone forever.  They'll see the young faces, new faces,      and the stolen youth and wonder aloud as did we of them....Where do we get them?

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