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April 26, 2005
Warrior to WarriorBy Greyhawk
Vietnam veteran and author John Harriman returns to Mudville with the seventh installment of his series Warrior to Warrior, letters from a Vietnam veteran to our soldiers in Iraq. See the intro to the series here).
Welcome to The World, Capital W
Dear Warrior . . .
After you were in Iraq a while-say, 10 minutes-you started thinking about coming home, right?
That's how it is for soldiers. You count the days down and always know the number. You keep time with Xs on your calendars, and one bold, circled, starred and underlined X marks your day of departure.
Vietnam veterans had a name for home: The World, capital T, capital W, our name for the only world that mattered.
The World was an idealized world, to be sure.
Back in The World, we thought, the air is fresher, the sky is clearer, the beer is colder and the women are hotter.
Back in The World, we argued, the food tastes better, the work is safer, the neighbors are friendlier and the dog might have had an itch, but it never had fleas.
Back in The World, we vowed, we would go back to school and spend more time in class and less time in bed. This time we would earn that degree, and this time with a B average.
Back in The World, we promised, we would not cut corners on the job and not call in sick just to get extra days at elk camp . . . okay, well, maybe just one extra day.
Back in The World, we swore to God, we'd go to church every Sunday and be more considerate of our parents and more thoughtful to all of our loved ones.
Then we got back to The World.
There we found that many of our good intentions didn't last any longer than our best efforts. Because we found the world we live in is where we are and what we make of it, whether we're in a foreign country or in the Sweet Grass Hills of Montana. We found that the world--small t, small w--is no more awful nor more beautiful than our ability to make it so. We knew this all along, but in our fascination with getting to that bold, circled, starred, underlined X on the calendar, we simply ignored reality. So we missed a lot of day-to-day living by living only for a day on the calendar.
We found, too, that The World went on without us.
We found that our families loved us and missed us, of course. But Dad didn't stop bird hunting. Mom didn't stop taking her famous muffins to church, Sis got engaged with no regard for us, and, inconsiderate kid that he is, Little Brother didn't stop growing until he got taller than his older, bolder, soldier brother. And, "Oh, dear," said Mom, "Would you mind giving Dusty a bath? He's got fleas again." Not again, Mom. Still.
We found that news people didn't care all THAT much whether we came home unless we came home in a coffin.
We found that our neighbors, if they acknowledged our return at all, didn't really want to talk about our war. And they seemed to get more than a little uncomfortable if we mentioned it. So we kept our mouths shut for decades.
We found that people stared at us because we poured our milk or beer over ice, which was the only way we could cool it down over there. And Mom was shocked at how we drowned so much of our food in catsup, which helped the meals go down in that other world.
On the plus side, our wives were way more beautiful than when we left. The air was fresher, too, the food better, the mountains and prairies and skies every bit as grand as we had dreamt.
One thing we didn't expect, though. We found we missed something from that other world. A thing we didn't appreciate while we were over there. Isn't that always the way?
We found we missed the men around us, our brothers in arms. We missed the bond we had welded in a brotherhood of war. We never felt it until we left, and for some of us, it took decades to appreciate.
You have a chance still to make it a part of your experience. Put a circle around tomorrow instead of an X. For just one day, instead of looking to come home, look to your brothers at war. Write down their names in a journal and in your heart. You may think you want to forget the guy who keeps filling your boots with sand every night. Later, when you return to The World, you will want to remember his name--all their names--for all time. Believe me.
Till next week . . .
God bless you and Godspeed.
John is a veteran of two combat tours in Vietnam and a member of the American Legion. These columns are excerpts from an upcoming book. His current book, Delta Force #1 : Operation Michael's Sword is a fictional account of the 9/11 attacks and the early days of Operation Enduring Freedom.
Posted by Greyhawk / April 26, 2005 6:19 PM | Permalink
November 26, 2010
I think anyone who's ever pondered the "comment" option - once only available on blogs and bulletin boards, now ubiquitous on almost any web site - will appreciate this:
The so-called faculty of writing is not so much a faculty of writing as it is a faculty of thinking. When a man says, "I have an idea but I can't express it"; that man hasn't an idea but merely a vague feeling. If a man has a feeling of that kind, and will sit down for a half an hour and persistently try to put into writing what he feels, the probabilities are at least 90 percent that he will either be able to record it, or else realize that he has no idea at all. In either case, he will do himself a benefit.
That's wisdom from the past, captured for posterity at the US Naval Institute, shared via the web on the institute's 137th anniversary.
From their about page:
"The Naval Institute has three core activities," among them, History and Preservation:
The Naval Institute also has recently introduced Americans at War, a living history of Americans at war in their own words and from their own experiences. These 90-second vignettes convey powerful stories of inspiration, pride, and patriotism.
Take a look at the collection, and you'll see it's not limited to accounts from those who served on ships at sea, members of the other branches are well-represented.
I'm fortunate to have met USNI's Mary Ripley, she's responsible for the institute's oral history program (and she's the daughter of the late John Ripley, whose story is told here). She also deserves much credit for their blog. ("We're not the Navy nor any government agency. Blog and comment freely.") We met at a milblog conference - Mary knew (and I would come to realize) that milbloggers are the 21st-century version of exactly what the US Naval Institute is all about. Once that light bulb came on in my head, I mentioned a vague idea for a project to her - milblogs as the 21st century oral history that they are.
"Put that in writing," she said (of course - see first paragraph above!) - and here's part of the result.
Shortly after the first tent was pitched by the American military in Iraq a wire was connected to a computer therein, and the internet was available to a generation of Americans at war - many of whom had grown up online. From that point on, at any given moment, somewhere in Iraq a Soldier, Sailor, Airman or Marine was at a keyboard sharing the events of his or her day with the folks back home. While most would simply fire off an email, others took advantage of the (then) relatively new online blogging platforms to post their thoughts and experiences for the entire world to see. The milblog was born - and from that moment to this stories detailing everything from the most mundane aspects of camp life to intense combat action (often described within hours of the event) have been available on the web...
And et cetera - but since you're reading this on a milblog, you probably knew that. And you know that milblogs aren't just blogs written by troops at war, that many friends, family members, and supporters likewise documented their story of America at war online in near-real time, as those stories developed.
The diversity in membership of that group is broad, the one thing we all have in common is the impulse to make sense of the seemingly senseless, and communicate the tale - for each of us that impulse was strong enough to overcome whatever barriers prevent the vast majority of people from doing the same. Everyone at some point has some vague idea they believe should be shared - we were the people who, from some combination of internal and external urging, found and spent those many half hours persistently trying to write it down.
But where will all that be in another 137 years? Or five or ten, for that matter. That's something I've asked myself since at least 2004 - when I wrote this:
Membership in the ghost battalion has grown in the years since, and an ever growing majority of those abandoned-but-still-standing sites are vanishing. Have you checked out Lt Smash's site lately? How about Sgt Hook's? If you're a long-time milblog reader you know the first widely-read milblog from Operation Iraq Freedom and the first widely-read milblog from Afghanistan are both gone from the web. If you're a relative newcomer to this world you may never even have heard of them - or the dozens upon dozens of others who carried forth the standard they set down.
If you have a vague notion that something should be done about that, (a notion I've heard expressed more than once...) then you and I and the good folks at the US Naval Institute are in agreement. Preserving the history documented by the milbloggers is just one of the goals of the milblog project, the once-vague idea that we're now making real.
And it's a big idea, if I say so myself - too big to explain in one simple blog post, so stand by for more. Likewise, it's too big a task to be accomplished by just one person. So if you're a milblogger (and exactly what is a milblogger? is a topic for much further discussion on its own) I'm asking for your help. All I'll really need is just a little bit (maybe just one or two of those half hours...) of your time, and your willingness to tell the tale.
We've already made history, it's time to save it.
(More to follow...)
The Mudville Gazette is the on-line voice of an American warrior and his wife who stands by him. They prefer to see peaceful change render force of arms unnecessary. Until that day they stand fast with those who struggle for freedom, strike for reason, and pray for a better tomorrow.
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