Pugnator Veteris et Bellum Infinitum:
The conversation about militia members and some private comments got me to thinking about perspective and getting older. I internalize much of what is written here.
When I was a young man I did young man things. I traveled the world and did my tiny bit to keep the world free for Americans. I’m not saying any of this for thank yous, sympathy, or bragging rights, I have the respect of those I served with and that’s enough.
I’m making a point with regard to getting older, so if you’ll bear with me, that’d be great.
I did things that live so vividly in my mind that it really seems like just yesterday that those things happened. I’m older and fatter now. My body aches when get out of bed and injuries take forever to heal.
These days, when I decide to do something impetuous, as a matter of habit, I run through the list of possible outcomes and avoid danger. Not so when I was younger. I didn’t give rat’s ass what the risks were 20 years ago. I’ve grown up some, I guess.
When you forge a lasting bond as young men, the memories of those times seem to remain fresh as the day they were made. Whenever I hear the phrase “endless war” or “war without end”, the intended meaning is always secondary.
My first thought is of the men who carry the joys & triumphs, burdens and scars of war. In their minds, the war never really seems to end. This is not to imply some detriment or mental brokenness, but, you can see when you speak with them that those memories (good & bad) are as raw and fresh as the day they were made. (On the spectrum of suffering, I got off pretty damned easy.)
This morning I met a man in a Land Rover with a decal that said “Nous Defions – ODA 796”.
I stopped to talk to him briefly. He was a smartly-dressed late 30’s man in a sort of corporate-hipster chic that’s common in Seattle, with a well-groomed beard of mostly-graying black.
He served in the same places as many of us on this forum, yet he looked like a successful banker or junior executive. His demeanor, when I tapped on his window was one of apprehension or caution. I quickly alleviated the tension by extending my hand and saying “I’m glad you made it home, brother.”
We spoke for a few minutes about the shortage of vets in Seattle and common ground, then I went back to my truck, but something he said stood out: “I keep it discreet. If you’ve been there, you know. If not, it’s just another sticker.” This individual, who looks every bit the quiet, unassuming fella role – typical of any upper-middle class American – is carrying a deadly open secret. He’s a hardened, trained and experienced killer.
There are two cogent points here that speak to the conversation yesterday:
1) You never know the badges someone carries under their shirt. That balding, pudgy guy in the corner? He might just be a quiet guy who wants to read his paper and drink his coffee in peace. He might also be wearing the physical and emotional scars of battle…the price of admission into a club so exclusive as to only be open to less-than 3% of Americans, or as ‘nessa pointed out, that old dude may be worthy of your deepest respect and admiration.
2) Most of the men who’ve been there and done it, as RJM pointed out, are (generally) humble and unassuming about it which speaks to the point I clearly did such a poor job of making yesterday. Men who call themselves “bloodagent” or some other Call of Duty fantasy codename & dress up in airsoft gear to show off on the news, give a false impression of what one should expect from the men who quietly & honorably defend this nation.
If you look at my comments on the matter, I take umbrage with men who make the rest of us look bad. I don’t care for people who sully the reputation of men better than themselves; men who have offered it all for someone else – just so they can play weekend warrior.
I have nothing but love and respect for the men who’ve been there and done it and I certainly wouldn’t discount the value of a gray-bearded junior executive who spent several years among the gods of war, but I don’t appreciate the caricature created by men who think themselves accursed for not having been there.
One of my oldest friends is a warrior-turned-civilian who works at the Pentagon. He sits in the Joint Chiefs daily brief every day. We served together. We drank and fought; made & lost families together. Another is a Project Manager who makes $250k a year and runs operations in India. Another is a Robotics Engineer. One friend owns several companies and has been hugely successful in the private sector. An Army Ranger friend works as a vessel superintendent in the O&G industry. A Marine friend is the retired VP of operations for a large company and another Ranger a retired doctor.
My point is that the men who you want on your side when the shit hits the fan, they don’t spend their weekends on the news celebrating their readiness to engage in violence against their fellow Americans. When or if their country needs them, they will fight because they are men of honor and men of action. They’re a driven lot who value deeds over words; utility over fashion; and accomplishment over the regret of nothing ventured.