December 7th

When we awoke this morning, how many of us knew about the significance of this day? Pearl Harbor Day?
When we awoke on September 11, how many of us knew the significance of that day? In twenty years from now, when our children awake on September 11, will they know the significance of either day?

This morning, I was invited to join some friends. The three of us veterans, two from the Air Force, one Marine met for coffee and a bagel. All three of us served in Vietnam. As I looked around the table, I noticed we were the oldest in the restaurant, all three of us in our 60’s.

Jacques, seated to my right, asked the other, about his grandson serving in Afghanistan. “Grandpa” replied with a summation. I do not think I will ever forget it. He removed his glasses and placed his callused hand over his face as though to wipe away the invisible wear and tear of years gone by. He deliberately took his time before answering.

Then quietly, he asked, “How do I explain to my grandson about collateral damage?” Jacques, being still, I replied, “pardon me”?
“My grandson was home recently on leave.” He said, “Grandpa, I need to talk to you.”
He explained that they went outside where they could be alone and sat under an old oak tree while family and friends gathered inside for a Thanksgiving feast

The young soldier, no more than 19 years old was part of a mechanized ranger battalion. He was assigned the task of manning a 50-caliber machine gun on top of a heavily armored Hummer type of vehicle. He was on his second tour of duty. Needless to say he got plenty of experience with “his 50”. His grandfather described how they slept in hard foxholes most of the time; sometimes on paved roadways covering themselves with whatever they could find to keep warm at night. Sometimes they traveled at night and slept during the day under the hot burning sun. “Tanning lotion was a commodity”, he explained.

He said, “My grandson told me I would not be able to comprehend what he and his fellow soldiers are going through. I did not want to remind my grandson that I spent 12 months in a jungle”.

As grandpa spoke, he began to choke up, “He told me about an experience he had and says he can’t talk to anyone except me about it. He told me that one afternoon they were moving through a town and there were many onlookers mulling around watching them drive through town. Suddenly there was an explosion up ahead. One of the troop vehicles ran over an IED. Chaos broke out. The towns people who were first standing around and leisurely walking about on both sides began running for cover.”

“The impact of the explosion could be felt for hundreds of yard in all directions. My grandson began looking closely at the crowd for signs of danger. Everyone was running away except a man dressed in the usual Afghan garments, standing about 25 yards to my grandson’s right. There was a little boy standing next to him who suspiciously moved behind the man after handing him something my grandson could not quite make out. Then he saw it. The man raised an RPG launcher and was about to take aim at the vehicle in front of my grandson. There was no time to warn the soldiers up ahead and their attention was focused on the vehicle in front that ran over the IED. Everything happened in seconds, yet it seemed time slowed to a slow walking speed.”

“My grandson explained that he had no choice but to turn his 50 caliber on to the man, and opened it up tearing him to shreds before he could launch the RPG. In the process, his 50 caliber hit the child killing him instantly.”

Jacques and I were speechless.

A this point grandpa had tears in his eyes and tried to ask the question, “How do I explain to my grandson (pause) that in war (pause), sometimes there is collateral damage (pause) and it is not your fault?” “How do I ease his pain”?

Then I discovered the truth. Pain. It is all about pain. Not the physical, but a pain that few of us can describe, yet many of us that are older, can feel and or relate to. It was then that I realized the difference between what I feel today, for our soldiers at war, as compared to what I felt when I was 19 years old, in Vietnam, or even older at the age of 30 or 40. I was still too young, too inexperienced.

At that moment in time, the three of us, felt the pain of one soldier, and both Jacques and I felt the pain of one grandfather struggling with trying to ease the pain of his grandson.

Last week a decision was made to send 30,000 more soldiers to Afghanistan. I think it is incomprehensible to consider how much the pain is about to be multiplied for those experiencing it first hand, and for those of us parents, grand parents, wives, children, sisters, brothers, etc., second hand. There were over 50,000 killed in Vietnam. Korean War, World War II, World War I, the dead was in the millions, including civilians and soldiers on both sides. “Incomprehensible” does not describe it.

How do we ease the pain? First, by acknowledging that it exists; second, by giving whatever help, aide, assistance, support we can for the soldiers, their families and those soldiers returning home, both wounded and not wounded. But, when it is all said and done, I sense that ALL soldiers returning home from war are wounded.

“December 7, 1941, a day that will live in “Infamy”. Who said that?

Published in: on December 7, 2009 at 1:27 am  Leave a Comment  
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