December 6, 2004

1810 words 9 mins read

Who Will Fight?

_The discussion forum _is full of vile and hatred toward everyone who voted for George W. Bush on November 2, 2004. One thread caught my attention more than others. It encourages conservatives to join the military.

1-800-USA-ARMY. That is the number you can call to locate your local Army recruiter if you want to enlist or need information for your children or grandchildren or nephews. I’m sure you will consider signing up unless of course you don’t believe in what you voted for. Serving in uniform is much more meaningful than waving a flag. I strongly urge all bush supporters to walk, now that you have talked.

Note to DUers. Stop by your local Army Recruiters Office and ask for some business cards. Tell them you will see if you can send some people their way. When a bush supporters chats, give him a card. It works wonders and is an excellent conversation starter.

While the writer clearly lacks the intellectual heft to start a really important conversation, he did. The conversation was between me and myself. We didn’t argue. We didn’t change our minds, and our beliefs weren’t challenged. Instead, I thought about things that Bosshog, the author’s pseudonym, probably can’t contemplate.

I have four boys under my roof: three sons and a step son. One of them wants a career in the military and has since has small. He is eleven. As I write this, he is sitting across the table working on math homework that should have been done hours ago. He has glasses that hide his beautiful eyes, and last year, he had a terrible bout of alopecia which destroyed his enviable, thick, auburn hair.

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Patrick offers the world so much. A broad and rich vocabulary accentuates a brilliant sense of humor. Each of his teachers convinces himself that Patrick will seek a career in whatever discipline is the teacher’s favorite—if only, they say, he would apply himself and improve his organizational skills. His two front teeth are chipped and broken from his ferocious play. Patrick is getting his money’s worth out of boyhood.

I made up my mind when I was twenty-one. My dad drove me to the recruiting office on Gravois where the Army, Navy, and Marine Corps shared a row of offices. I talked to all three, but I was mostly interested in the Marines. I knew that military life involved unpleasant, hard work for little pay. If I was going to submit to such punishment, reasoned, I’d want the effort to have a purpose. The Marines seemed the most purposeful. They did important things. They fixed problems before the Army and the Navy got their boots on.

“Your mom wouldn’t make it if you joined the Marines,” my dad said on the way home.

My mom and dad are World War II people. My dad served in WWII and Korea. They knew a lot of kids from Epiphany and Longfellow and Southwest High School—all in South St. Louis—who didn’t make it see VJ Day. Most of them were Marines.

I don’t know whether it was my mom or my dad who would have worried themselves to death if I were a leather-neck. Maybe both. They would have been proud—oh, so sickeningly proud. But their only son off in some God-forsaken hole in the middle of nowhere fighting commies would have taken years off of their lives. Years.

I joined the Navy.

Patrick is only eleven, thank God. I hope the world is a safer place when he turns eighteen. I know it won’t be. Danger is a constant—only the direction from which it emanates changes from time to time. In my day, the danger lay in the USSR.

I know some day I’ll take off work and set the alarm for 4:00 AM. I’ll wake Patrick then take a shower. Downstairs, I’ll cook something solid for breakfast, listening to Patrick whistling in his room. On the table will be the big Kraft envelope with only “Hennessy, Patrick” a service abbreviation, and that service’s return address in Washington. Inside that envelope will be the paperwork that takes him off to a dangerous, difficult life where I cannot protect him or help him or hear him whistle.

After breakfast, we’ll get into my car drive East to the MEPS station in downtown St. Louis. I’ll tell him goodbye and try not to embarrass him as he falls into line with the other recruits and office candidates as the queue up to begin final processing.

About 3:00 that afternoon, I’ll be at Lambert Field, waiting for him to emerge through the sliding glass doors, along with twenty other newly sworn service members. I’ll want to say all of the things that I didn’t say at the MEPS station. This morning, when I pulled into a Target parking lot to cry unabated, I decided that I’d tell him how much he means to me, how proud I am, how worried I am, how eager I am to receive news of his promotions and medals and achievements. I gave up worrying about his embarrassment. Damn it, I was the first person to hold him. I cut his umbilical cord and carried him around a hospital room while the NHL playoff post-game show was on and his mother slept. I can embarrass him one last time.

But he’s theirs now. The sergeant in charge of the recruits allows only a moment for the recruits to say goodbye to their families. It’s only fair, really, since many of the recruits have no one there to embarrass them. I don’t have time. I’ll have to write down all these things and put them into a letter. I know, somehow, I never will.

When the casualty assistance calls officer pulls up in front of a home, my heart stops. I know from experience that white DoD cars don’t spend much time in residential neighborhoods, except when young men and women are dying in some far off land.

The CACO carries a package for the family. There’s no telegram delivered by cab drivers. The military has the respect to send a uniformed officer or senior enlisted to deliver the ultimately devastating news of a son’s ultimate sacrifice.

The CACO drives through the city streets thinking about what to have for dinner that night or what he has to do back at the office. He listens to the radio talk show discussing prostate cancer. He thinks about anything except his mission. He’ll think about that when the time comes.

About two blocks away, he glances at the package on the passenger’s seat and rehearses his lines. “Mr. Johnson, I’m Lieutenant Commander Rivers, United States Navy,” he’ll begin. The rest is rote.

He parks perfectly straight in front of the century old brick, single family home. He picks up the package and opens the car door. He’s now “on.” Like an actor, he knows the audience can see him. There’s nothing phony or fake about his actions. He is an American fighting man, and the tax payers expect military bearing, esprit de corps, straight lines.

He imagines cadence caller in his mind as he slams the car door shut. “Forward march. By the right flank march. By the right flank march.”

He’s at the door, standing at attention, package in this left hand, leaving his right hand free to salute or, in this case, to knock. There’s a door bell, but protocol demands a knock—three sharp wraps with the palm of the right hand. Then he falls back to attention.

Inside, Mr. Johnson knows some dread thing beacons him. Before he sees the white fender of the car or the black coat of the officer, he knows he’d be better off to run out the back door and down the alley.

He pulls the door open and the world around throws itself into a tantrum of numb meaninglessness like a snow globe in which the flakes are fixed but the trees and people and buildings tumble confusedly around them on invisible waves of liquid.

The officer speaks, but Mr. Johnson knows not what he says. The officer is gone, back to his office, to his life, to another world—the one that he shared with Mr. Johnson until seconds before. The one they all shared with the Johnsons’s son until yesterday.

Mr. Johnson tries to close the door, but it takes inordinate effort. It seems the atoms of his body are moving in some strange pattern. His hand passes through the door knob as if Mr. Johnson were a ghost. Or is he real and the world a mirage?

He sits. The rough kraft envelope in scratches his hands like a brown grocery back against dry skin. At once, he wishes to hear voices in some distant room, but he wants to talk to no one. Just then a sound of pain and sorrow and horror arises from some far away place approaching Mr. Johnson at an oblique angle. Suddenly, the wail is close enough to discern its origin: it’s coming from him.

Mr. Johnson’s mouth hangs open in abject misery and loss. The woeful moans and gasps. Tears.

Hey, liberals: I don’t ever want to be Mr. Johnson. I don’t want my sons to put me through what I put my parents through—what my dad and uncles put their parents and sisters and brother through.

But we do. The price of freedom is high. Watch Mel Gibson’s “The Patriot” tonight. If you have children, especially boys, have them close at hand. See the price that Gibson’s character pays for freedom. Feel the pain.

I pray my sons never see the horror of war, feel the pain of a bullet, or even experience the misery of boot camp. But I hope I have instilled in them a respect for freedom that will carry them through those battles should their service be required. And I thank God for the young men and women who have followed me into service of their country and our God. I served ten years. I wish I were young enough to return. I wish I could go to Iraq where my experience and age would keep some CACO behind a desk instead of driving to some Mr. Johnson’s home.

America is at war with an enemy who wishes us converted or dead. He wishes our women be covered head to toe, that we learn only Arabic, that we work as slaves. Our enemy wants to end civilization as we know it. If you are too weak and too timid to join that fight, please step aside and do what you can to help the brave and willing. And while I hope they never need to wear the uniforms of our country’s services, I hope my sons, when it comes time to choose, fall in with the willing and the brave.