There was a front page story in my local newspaper, The Olympian, about two Soldiers from the Ranger battalion at Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM) receiving the Silver Star for actions in Afghanistan. One received his posthumously; the other survived the action.
It is perhaps just fatuousness, but I feel so proud of these two men, whom I have never met, and at the same time so very unworthy of their sacrifice, of both life and peace.
I spent eight years in the US Army, from 1975 to 1983, basically two four year enlistments, leaving as a buck sergeant. I spent nearly all of my first hitch at JBLM, at the part then known as Fort Lewis, just down the road from the Ranger battalion headquarters. A few of my friends transferred over to the Rangers, and just a few months before my mustering out of service, a couple of them dropped with their battalion by parachute into a hot LZ during Operation Urgent Fury, the invasion of Grenada. My friends survived their contribution of courage to the glory of the 2nd Battalion 75th Infantry and the United States of America. Similarly, Sergeant Peter Cimpoes survived his contribution, but Specialist Ricardo Cerros did not. Their stories are worth reading: Medals go to American heroes.
I was reflecting on all this recently. The thing that stands out to me is that in my service I was never required to place my life on the line. My four years in combat arms units (2nd Bn 39th Infantry and 1st Bn 11th Field Artillery) were undistinguished by any actual combat. I was ready, but the call never came. I sometimes regret this, given that many of my fellow soldiers were called later, and answered the call. I console myself with the last line of John Milton’s poem, On His Blindness, in which he states “they also serve who only stand and wait”.
Milton was writing about his disability, which was his physical blindness, by which he was unable to serve in the common ordinary fashion of the rest of humanity. I echo this sentiment in resonation by way of being unable to serve due to my lot in time.
In 1991, I watched as many of my fellow soldiers invaded Iraq and Kuwait with General Norman Schwartzkopf. I was familiar with Schwartzkopf, having been under his command during 1978 when he was a mere bird colonel and the commander of the 1st Brigade of the 9th Infantry Division. I don’t know how many others out of the many who served with me during my service in the 39th Infantry and 11th Field Artillery went into harm’s way in the Gulf War, but I was with them in spirit. I wanted to be there so bad I could taste it. I would have been there, my brothers and sisters, had I been standing and waiting at that time.
Not that I wanted to commit violence upon people or property, you understand. That being part and parcel of standing in harm’s way, however, it was all of a piece. What I yearned for was to face danger with those whose lot it was to serve when that service was required.
No doubt those who have stood in harm’s way in this fashion will read this and mutter to themselves, “What an idiot.”
And they’re probably right.