We have out of town company today. Our favorite Marine, just returned from Iraq, and his lovely fiancee are visiting us. This is the Loved One's number one son, and he is a first lieutenant in the United States Marine Corps Reserve. They'll be with us another couple of days, while the Loved One is home on rotation from the Great White North.
Our lieutenant was deployed to Iraq last October, and returned to his home in Maryland in early April. His unit was stationed in a tense and violent part of Iraq that we've all read and heard about in the news. Every day he was gone was a nail-biter. Dear Daughter would listen to the casualty reports on NPR in the morning and tell me, "Don't worry, Mom. Today it was soldiers who died, not Marines."
Not that the loss of Army personnel instead of Marines made me feel any better. I got in the habit (not the best one, admittedly) of reading the listings of casualties on the Department of Defense website. This site is a real downer, to say the very least. It lists, by name, Americans who have fallen in battle in Iraq and Afghanistan. If you click on the names, you are taken to either the official armed forces release of information, or, in some cases, the hometown newspaper of the deceased. Handy toolbars allow you to sort casualties by branch of service, country of deployment, year of death; and even to search for statistics such as percentage of casualties sustained in what month, of what year, etc. For instance, if you search by Army casualties sustained in Afghanistan in April of 2004, you'll come across the name "Patrick D. Tillman," aged 27, of the United States Army, 75th Rangers Division. By now, hardly anyone in America doesn't know who Pat Tillman was and his sad story.
But if you just scroll through the list, you'll come across a lot of other names you won't recognize--names that don't have any meaning to most people. However, to some people, those names mean the world. Those names are sons, daughters, fathers, husbands, wives, mothers, sisters, hometown heroes, the high school football captain, the guy from the commuter train, the woman who used to clean your teeth, faces in a crowd. Since we as yet have an all-volunteer armed forces, we can surmise these names all have one very important thing in common--they all knew they would eventually end up in the Iraq and/or Afghanistan theaters of war, yet signed on the dotted line anyway. Some hoped for it, some dreaded it. All of them deserve our respect for their courage, integrity and honor.
My friends smile indulgently at me when I say the USMC made an officer out of our Marine, but that he was already a gentleman. I let them. I know I'm right. Welcome home. And thank you for being who you are.