When I was first stationed in Germany in early 1994, I met a guy who I’ll call Matt. He was an Air Force SP (security police), which in many ways is the Air Force’s idea of infantry. Matt had just returned from Somalia. He was beautiful, in my opinion, and I was immediately smitten.
The guys in my unit told me that I should steer clear of him because he was “not right anymore” since his time “in the Mog.” I was just turning 20, and laughed it off. We were Air Force. It’s not like we saw ground combat. I didn’t know about the incident with the Black Hawks. I had been in Basic and AIT during that time. We dated for a few months and though I loved him dearly, I could never get past the wall.
I watched Black Hawk Down for the first time today, and was really able to take in the mess that was Somalia in a way that was more than just academic knowledge. Ever since doing the research for the Vietnam story, I can’t watch war movies anymore. The feeling of “Hell yes! Americans Kick ASS! OORAH!” has been eclipsed by anger, and a sad sense of pride. It’s not the same anymore. I don’t chuckle knowingly to see wounded soldiers get up and keep fighting; admiring their courage. I cry knowingly instead, lifting my chin and thinking, “Of course.”
I cried from the moment Todd Blackburn fell out of the chopper until the end credits rolled, and for a long time after. I cried for the two Delta Force soldiers who were awarded the Medal of Honor. I cried for Dom Pilla, shot out of the top of a Humvee; for Cpl Jamie Smith, who bled to death in a dirty African city while his fellow soldiers tried in vain to hold his femoral artery together. I cried for people like Matt, who I found recently but who I don’t think ever really found himself again.
The love I have for my country is so deep and profound that it drives everything that I am. My belief in freedom and my willingness to do whatever it takes to defend my flag is second only to my belief in God. Yet there are times when I ask myself what the point is.
All these blogs, all these soldiers and veterans and people who understand what the price of freedom is – and yet the country is still clueless. The colleges and their anti-recruiters, the feminists and their sanctioning of killing our children, the constant head-in-the-sand syndrome about Islam and its followers. We’re being invaded from the South, by people whose only goal is to have a “better life” by taking what is not theirs. We’re being infiltrated by terrorists whose only wish is to see us all dead.
I spent some time in the mall the other day, and as I sat there eating with my husband and child, I couldn’t help but look around me. Teenage girls walking around dressed like they’re prostitutes, convinced that the world revolves around their tiny little group of boys and makeup and the latest fashions. Sullen-looking boys in gang colors, thinking the world owes them something; thinking that their involvement in guns or drugs or violence makes them someone. Well-dressed couples, chattering away on their respective cell phones, completely oblivious to their mate right next to them; like they have all the time in the world.
These people have no idea. They go about their lives without a thought in the world that in Iraq, right now, there is a soldier bleeding for them. Right as I type this, there is an officer trying to learn to walk again after having his legs blown off. There is a mother and father accepting the fact that their only son was killed by a terrorist before he reached his 21st birthday. There is a woman trying to make it on her own with two small children because her husband willingly and knowingly gave the ultimate gift to his fellow Americans – without a second thought. There is a little boy going to sleep tonight who will ask his mother to tell him about his daddy. There is a man who will live the rest of his life knowing that his best friend died a horrible, violent death – so he could live.
I am angered beyond belief at the state of our country. I am discouraged, and I wonder if anything I say in this sea of words makes a difference. I wonder if there’s even a point. It seems as though for every person like me, who understands the cost, there are 1,000 more too selfish to even realize that their blood is required to maintain the views they hold.
Yet, we press on. Why? Because of those who have come before. Because of Rafael Peralta. Because of Randy Shughart and Gary Gordon; Richard Winters and Brad Kasal. Because of four men who died on a hill in 1968.
There are hundreds of thousands of people in this country, right now, who did something amazing. They saw there’s more to life than cell phones and malls and their next outfit. There’s more to being an American than sneaking across a border long enough to have a baby. The red in our flag stands for blood; the actual, real blood of men and women who throughout history have chosen to give everything, including their last breath, for the sake of the call.
Someone has to ensure their gift was not in vain.