March 13, 2010
Hey, GI!By Jim Mahoney
I have a friend who devotes much of her time to visiting people confined to their beds, whether by paralysis, age, or the other causes that put people into nursing homes. She does it for no compensation. The comfort and consolation she offers these people has a beauty that rivals any other on earth.
She has her own reasons for doing what she does, and she's alive and here because of the decency and sacrifice of thousands of young Americans.
GI, maybe you shared your gum with that smiling kid and her friends irresistibly mangling English phrases on that street in Danang. They knew that "GI soldiers" love kids, and you didn't disappoint them. You probably didn't know it then, or even now, but because of you, she felt safe despite the explosions that rocked her childhood nights.
Maybe you were a Marine setting up tents at Camp Pendleton in '75. Maybe you groused about doing it, the way GIs have always groused. Maybe you were lucky and entered the Corps late enough to miss the war. It doesn't matter, Private; know that your work gave her and her family the comforts of a home they'd missed since they'd abandoned their own months before.
Maybe you worked in the chow hall. Marine, know that you made a young kid think she found heaven on earth. Good food, as much as she could eat, a decent shelter, and a clean place to sleep. Even movies at night! Did you know that after her ordeal, just the sight of your uniform made her feel safe?
She remembers, and she is grateful.
Maybe you were in one of those battles for a nameless hill. Perhaps your body bears the marks of the price you paid. Do you know that what you did helped keep her family together and alive?
You, with your name on the wall, did you know how much your sacrifice was appreciated by the people of that sad land? Many made it to our shores. Do you know that you live on through them -- people like her, who make your country better after all these years?
Perhaps you'll meet one of her friends soon. She's an old widow, abandoned and dying alone, except for her one friend. Or maybe it will be the older gentleman who lies frozen in pain and paralysis in his bed today. Yes, they have it far better than you did, dying as they are in a warm bed with someone who cares nearby. Still, if you hadn't paid your price, they too might face death alone, as you had to. I hope you'll meet so they can tell you what your sacrifice meant to them in their last days.
GI, we've cheated you. Our storytellers have covered their guilt by hiding your heroism in silly lies. They've replaced your decency with their own pathologies. With your true stories stuck in obscure corners, we've all been cheated. Maybe you're one of the 240 awarded the Medal of Honor whom almost no one can name. Maybe it was just bad luck that put your name on the wall. It doesn't matter now; you've paid your price.
For all these years, we've wondered at the waste, the agony of that war written off like a bad loan by those it profited the most. Now we see that history has its own way of rewarding sacrifice. Ordinary America is blessed in countless little ways for the sacrifice of her young, while the mighty live and die with their ghosts. GI, rest easy, and know that people you protected are here and alive because of you. In this odd and roundabout way, America is better for what you did.
It's time for us to remember, and to be grateful, too.
Hey GI, today you face the same demons. In the field, metal still flies your way, while in comfortable rooms, those unworthy to lead you plot against your victory. In spite of it all, you manage to prevail. Like those before you, you have something in your heart that no corruption can steal. It's a part of you that refuses to die. You have the goodness and decency of the American people in you. To strangers in faraway lands, your one gesture of kindness to the innocent is more important than all the hot gases belching out of the inflated, preening egos of those who pretend to lead us.
GI, it's time for us to remember; it's time for us to act!
Now it's America's turn to return the favor to you. We owe you a Congress that values you more than the lobbyists' loot. You need a commander-in-chief who understands your devotion and understands the decency of Americans. These are our orders: Awaken our neighbors, restore our republic, and let you win your victory or bring you home.
Meanwhile, be safe, and know that just by being an "ordinary" American, you are a force for good. Thank you, GI.
Photo credit: Official US Marine Corps photographs