You have always been The Soldier in my mind. You are the first uniform I remember, being held by you at your graduation from boot camp as a four or five year old. I remember Mom reading portions of your letters to us while you were on active duty. I remember telling my kindergarten class that I knew someone in “The Gulf.” I remember not understanding what fighting in “The Gulf” meant. I remember when you came back.
One’s relationship with her childhood babysitter is a strange thing. You and your sister cared for me before I was conscious of needing to be cared for. You changed my diapers and played with me; you gave my parents an evening off and went on vacations with us. I probably learned words from you and laughed at your silly faces. But I don’t remember any of this. You loved and cared for someone who couldn’t thank you.
I remember reading about soldiers who made the “ultimate sacrifice,” i.e. who gave their lives on the battlefield to protect their nation and the interests of their people. I remember thinking how glad I was that you hadn’t had to make that sacrifice.
But then, as the years passed, and as I overheard bits and pieces from my Mom, from your mom, from your sister, I realized that you had made a harder sacrifice. You, not fully aware of the cost at the time, received an altered life. Your relationships, your dreams, your plans, your gifts and talents were all affected. Your life was forever changed by your fighting in Operation Desert Storm. You didn’t get a simple memorial wreath and beautiful eulogies. You had to keep living every single day with the internal and external effects of death and violence. And you did, joyfully and bravely.
Norm, you taught me that the sacrifice of a soldier is not a one-time action, but a life-long choice to live with scars on behalf of an often unknowing nation. You taught me to see the true cost of war in the never-the-same lives of those who return, and the never-the-same families of those who loved and love you. You forever are on the other side of the “is it worth it?” equation that must be part of any discussion of warfare. I honor your sacrifice, but its reality increasingly pushes me to answer the above question in the negative.
Thank you for loving little Bec before she could realize it; thank you for the sacrifice you paid daily upon your return from warfare. Thank you for teaching me, with your life, to question the value of something that costs so much.
You are missed.
In memory of LCpl. Norm B., USMC (1970 to 2013)
My reaction to anything that is hard to think about well, like war, is to do a lot of listening. Ask questions of the veterans in your life. Ask questions of those actively serving. Ask questions of history; read not only history texts but primary documents. Talk to people with different perspectives on war. Talk to people from different countries. Ask hard questions of the Bible (both the New and Old Testaments). There are no easy answers to something as wretchedly awful as the shedding of blood in national conflict.