I was going through some old packages the other day I’ve had in storage when I came across a picture of my basic training company. It was almost shocking how young we all looked, just boys I thought, young pimple faced kids void of any hint of facial hair. We were all prideful then, new soldiers, clean pressed uniforms, and we all had a stoic look upon our faces. I remember clearly standing on those risers waiting to get our picture taken and I don’t remember feeling as young as I look in the image I now held in my hand.
Little did I know the impact that my service would have in my life, even had I known I wouldn’t have been able to relate it to anything, it wouldn’t have made any sense, and at that age I would have refuted it anyway. I remember after I had left the military post tours in Panama and later South West Asia, my little sister enlisted; I was afraid for her, for the loss of innocence she would experience, she was excited, bold, seeking adventure and honor in the name of serving after her father and her brother, me. She would go on to become a field nurse, imbedded with a forward troop maneuvering through city streets in Bagdad in the early morning hours. She would witness horrific injuries, patch up her fellow soldiers, meet her husband and the father of her two children on one of those missions. He himself would be injured during one of his many tours behind enemy lines and receive a Purple Heart for his sacrifice. That said I am proud of my little sister, it is because of the bravado and untested nerve of young men and woman in our country that has made our country what it is and for that I am grateful.
It seems to me that these days boys and girls are not given the recognition they deserve. I think they come off brash and over confident, but that is natural, that is driven by our own needs to survive. I wonder how many people realize how many under age children served in the military around the world from the very beginning, from powder boys whom served on gun boats to the some 250,000 British teenagers whom fought alongside their countrymen during World War One. They sought adventure and many just to escape the bleak and dismal conditions at home at the time. Nonetheless they all joined and fought and died on the front lines, in the trenches and it was easy even though technically the law said you had to be 19, many didn’t have birth certificates then so at 14 if you met the height requirement you were in. Even in Homer’s Iliad he spoke of the valor of boy soldiers serving in the Trojan War, victims not only of war but of the destruction of youthful possibility. It is true, innocence is lost among the ravages of conflict, and it is a dour environment for any youth, young men or woman to be. That being the case it should not be forgotten that among so many forgotten heroes here and abroad, regardless of their age, sex or religion, they fought because they believed in the sanctity of freedom and a peaceful legacy.
On this day, let us not forget all who’ve served, let us not forget the mindful commitment to all of us and the sacrifice so many boys, girls, young men and woman and all those who’ve given so much to preserve the rights we all share to live out a peaceful and fruitful existence. Thank you veterans, for gauging the value of your very own life against those of us all and making the sacrifices you have.
Yes I was young then, when I look at those pictures of my youthful face, I remember all too well every moment I spent in conflict, I remember calling out my mother’s name in prayer more than a few times. And asking for quick delivery of the souls of my friends and colleagues to a grander place than where I stood, and where they laid, taken too early as it were. I remember you today and every day.