This early afternoon I am sitting on my front porch as Miriam runs back & forth (our porch runs the length of our house and is one of the things that first drew us to buy this particular house). I’ve put the baby gate across the entrance so I can sit and let Miriam play while I enjoy a few moments of reflection about the meaning of this holiday – beyond just having a day off, getting together with family, or hosting a bar-b-que. It means something else to each person – some remember their loved ones who have passed away by placing wreaths on graves; some remember those who gave the ultimate sacrifice for their country.
The weather is just about perfect this afternoon … I don’t know what the temperature is but it’s just right in my opinion. A slight breeze is blowing. Our American flag has been flying off the porch rail since early this morning … and as I look down our street, the two neighbors beside me also have their flags out. I’m thankful to live in a military community; I think most of our neighbors are active military members, retirees, or veterans – as my husband is.
My dad was a 20 year career soldier, my step brother is retired from the Air Force, and my husband and 3 of his siblings or in-laws have served in the Army. The military has been a part of my life in some way since my mom and I immigrated to the United States from Germany in 1974. I’ve eaten Thanksgiving meals at mess halls and camped on military recreation areas. I’ve shopped in BX’s (Base Exchange), PX’s (Post Exchange), and commissaries (grocery store). I like to think I know the ranks on uniforms – although I get all confused with Sergeant stripes when it comes to Staff Sergeants and 1st Sergeants and Sergeant Majors and such like!! I’ve stayed in a BOQ (Basic Officers Quarters) and collected BAH (Basic Allowance for Housing). I know a lot of the acronyms of the military and understand much of the protocol. I’ve been an officer’s wife, am the daughter of a retired Warrant Officer, and have much respect for the enlisted man’s experience – to the point of thinking the officers should be saluting the enlisted men instead of vice versa!
Even going further back, my grandparent’s generation experienced World War II. My biological father’s father is buried somewhere on the Russian front. My mother’s mother fled with only her baby and a suitcase from the Russians who were invading her homeland of Prussia. My mother’s father was a German engineer in the late 1930’s, who worked his way through Poland and Eastern Prussia. He was a POW of the Russians and later the Americans who eventually let him go home. My German great-uncle was a military prisoner of war in Siberia for 5 years.
Because of my husband’s time spent in a Combat Support Hospital (C*S*H) for Operation Iraqi Freedom from March 2003 to February 2004, I know a little bit about military members who made the ultimate sacrifice in our generation. His job as the Medical Regulating Officer for the unit meant he had to arrange transportation for wounded soldiers; many times the efficiency of his team meant saving the life or limb of that soldier. Sometimes, as part of the mortuary affairs team, it was his job to inventory the belongings of a soldier who was killed. He had to go through their wallets and look at the portraits of their families’ faces, see the little personal notes tucked into pockets, read the information on the dog tags to see which chaplain was needed if a soldier was yet near death … He said one of the hardest things to do was to read a dog tag that stated NRP, which means “no religious preference.” In other words, that person may not have had a relationship with God. Perhaps no hope of heaven … though of course, we are not the ones who can judge that.
My husband journaled about his year in Iraq, and I am so grateful that I could have insight into almost every day he spent away from us. He and his fellow soldiers were among the first organized troops in country after the War on Terror began, and they set up a tent hospital in the fine-dust sands of an abandoned Iraqi military base 80 km north of Baghdad. He knows what it is like to not have a shower for days, to eat only pre-packaged MRE’s (meals ready to eat), and the importance of surrounding oneself with sandbags to get protection from the mortar attacks of the enemy. While he did not live in fear, his unit had to live cautiously. They could not just take a routine jog when conditions were not favorable or wander the base freely; they had to get out of bed in the middle of the night and huddle in bunkers or empty MILVANS (miltary shipping containers) when mortars were coming in. He said it sounded as if the mortars were “walking towards you.”
Occasionally, he had to ride in a convoy through the streets of Iraq, and at one point, upon returning from his R&R, his truck had a near-miss episode with a misfired IED (roadside bomb). He was never in as much danger as the ones who engage in street fighting and are regularly outside the military bases; but no one is safe in those countries at any time, I think …
I’ve sent my husband to war once … but not like the spouses who have done it over and over again as many have by now! Deployments are a way of life for many families with Iraq, Afghanistan, and other areas of conflict being protected by our brave men and women. I appreciate the sacrifice and feel our part was so small in comparison. And yet, we know enough to not take the sacrifices for granted.
Living near an Army post and having so many friends who are active duty, I can list a few names of soldiers who sacrificed for our freedom and the brave families who support them:
There was the little 4 year old girl in our school … her mother wore the child’s deceased father’s wedding band on her index finger as a constant reminder of him and his sacrifice in Iraq.
There was the wife and her 2 children who attended a dinner party with us at a friend’s home … and after finding out her name, my husband realized that the doctors of the C*S*H where he worked in Iraq kept her husband on life support on Christmas Day 2003 … and declared him deceased after midnight so that this family would not associate Christmas Day with their husband/father’s death.
There is a man in our church today, a living miracle … who had an RPG (rocket propelled grenade) go through his body without injuring any vital organ! Only his intestines and the tissue of his mid section were affected … and after months of surgeries and rehab, he is functioning again as any healthy man might, at least it appears so.
My husband’s journal is full of stories that we remember today … men and women who were willing to risk life and limb, eyesight and hearing, the prospects of having a normal life… for our country, for you, for me, for the freedom I enjoy today as I sit on my front porch.