Stars and Stripes

Stars and Stripes

Monday, June 20, 2011

Another Pays the Price

On June 5, 2011, CW2 Bradley Gaudet died in Afghanistan due to a helicopter crash. Sadly, over the last few months, I had forgotten just how powerful and truly debilitating the sting of death in combat can be. Because we have been hearing about service men and women being killed in action on the television, in the paper, or on the internet somewhere for over a decade, we can sometimes be numb to the implications of such a loss. Today I implore you to resist the temptation to become desensitized to said news. With each name called on a killed in action (KIA) list comes radical implications such as family members that are left behind, brothers in arms that must deal with the loss, and a world that is negative one of its bravest. I do not think that anyone reading this will deny the gratitude that is due a fallen member of the military or the debt each of us owe.
Unlike many others, this country understands the importance of placing immense value on remembering and honoring its fallen heros. We have several holidays set aside for honoring our past and present guardians of freedom. We, both individually and collectively, refuse to forget the ones who have given so much for us to walk in peace across a nation that is free from oppression. We are a free land because fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, sons, and daughters paid the price of freedom in blood. I am proud to be apart of a people whose value system includes honoring those that pay the price. 
One look into the face of a wife who’s marriage has been cut short because her husband refused to sit at home and watch a war on CNN that affects his home and his family reveals a staggering pain that most of us will never understand. It is the kind of pain that buckles knees and devastates lives. A quick glance in the eyes of a child who is starting to realize his or her daddy will not be coming home shows the kind of turmoil that is lifelong. It does not go away. From the time this family wakes in the morning to the time they go to bed at night, they face the daunting task of living life without the person who helped make them all a family. The head of the household has been taken away prematurely. People, we cannot imagine what that is like, but there is one small thing we can do, and that is never forget the sacrifice that was paid. 
As Chief Gaudet’s family lays him to rest with Jesus this weekend think about the sacrifice that his family has paid and the effect that it will have for years to come.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

In Flanders Fields

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

On May 3, 1915, Lt. Col. John McCrae penned the poem, In Flanders Field, after a close friend was killed in combat. His words beautifully encompass the irrevocable feeling of loss, sorrow, and utter despondency that is often felt by soldiers in battle. This poem was not the first that McCrae wrote and it would not be the last, however,  it is certainly the one that he is prominently known for and is packed with more emotion than any of his others. This beautiful work is laid out very simply, but we should not consider a simplistic theme uninspired. Although simple, the somewhat mournful, yet hopeful and encouraging tone draws the reader in masterfully. 
McCrae does not use a specific person or character for the persona in this poem, but, instead, he uses the entirety of those fallen in battle to do his speaking. He does not waste time with a deep plot, nor does His goal appear to be one of elegance. But, somehow, in the simplicity of this piece, he does indeed capture the oldest, finest form of elegance- truth. The truth behind the story is that McCrae, who held the position of brigade surgeon, suffered the loss of a good friend a single day before he wrote this. Near broken with grief and pain over the loss of his friend, McCrae uses very descriptive imagery in the first stanza to vividly place the reader on the battlefield. This imagery of a war-torn field covered with poppies foreshadows the rest of the poem in an effort to quickly and blatantly put the reader where the action is. The first stanza appears to be solely responsible for all topographical imagery such as landscape, animal life, and the overall battle scene. In only five lines McCrae paints a pristine picture for the reader to imagine throughout the remainder of the poem.
In the second stanza we see the emergence of the voice of the poem. It comes across as a group of deceased soldiers speaking to those left behind and urging them to continue fighting for, and believe in, their cause. In a total of four lines Lt. Col. McCrae establishes character in the poem by summarizing the lives of the dead. Here is where we begin to see the gross degree of sadness felt by John McCrae. He eloquently describes how those men, like all others involved in war, had lives they enjoyed and families that loved and cared for them and would inevitably be devastated over their premature end.We continue to detect mournful unrest in Lt. Col. McCrae’s words throughout the second stanza until the climax which comes in the third.
Next, the Colonel’s sadness turns from gloomy disgust to hopeful patriotism. McCrae recognizes that what is at stake is bigger than he, his friend, or legions of other men that would eventually fill thousands of caskets throughout World War I. He knew that in order for good to conquer evil in the world real heroism sometimes requires the sacrifice of those whom we love the most. In the third stanza, McCrae writes what every true soldier would say if they could speak from the grave. The voices of the dead give the living instructions and encouragement to continue on in their quest to forever silence their foe.  We see that the mournful attitude in the second stanza is replaced with one of duty in the third. He understood and took comfort in knowing that they did not die in vain but, in fact, they died with honor; they died while doing a hard job that was required to maintain freedom. 
While talking to a friend before the war McCrae said, “I am really rather afraid, but more afraid to stay at home with my conscience.” He knew that life as a soldier would be anything but easy and it would surely require sacrifice in many forms. He chose to go anyway. In Flanders Fields identifies in fifteen lines the essence of true patriotism. By combining different techniques Lt. Col. McCrae created one of the most eloquent and inspiring pieces of poetry of the last century. His words are strategically and purposefully placed in each line to form a simplistic poem, but the ideals behind the words are more powerful than words can describe. Sadly, these ideals required many thousands of lives to bring them to pass, but without them our world would not be the free world that it is. 

Friday, December 3, 2010

The True American Heart

The media paints many different pictures of the war in Afghanistan. Some people think Operation Enduring Freedom is necessary, and some would have our forces drop everything immediately and come home for good. The real story is one you will not hear about on CNN or read in the pages of The New York Times while you sip coffee in the morning. It is the story of The True American Heart; A heart that beats just as strong and free as it has for 234 years. It’s the heart that beats inside the chest of every American when he or she looks at the sunrise and feels blessed to be in the greatest country on earth. The men and women who define America fill a void that many do not even know about. They do not look any different than you or me and they’re rarely in the spotlight. If you could see their consistent giving, their unwavering sense of duty, or their overwhelming pride in our land you would see the essence of America. This is their story; the story of The True American Heart. 
It was a blistering hot mid July afternoon in northern Afghanistan. I was serving as a platoon medic in the second battalion of the Army’s 173rd Airborne Infantry. In the 15 months since I arrived, enemy contact had been a regular occurrence. It was certainly no surprise when the bullets began to rain down on us, even though it was the third time that day. Explosions from rocket propelled grenades, or RPG’s, seemed to be all around us. Enemy machine gun fire immediately began to pepper the guard tower where I, and three other men, were instinctively jumping into action. Less than one minute after the fight broke out I found myself lying on the floor with my body completely paralyzed. Up to now I had enjoyed a life with a strong and steady build but in the blink of an eye I was laying in a puddle of my own blood and wondering if I would even survive the day. The bullet hit me in the left side of my neck and stopped precisely in the middle of my spine at the  seventh cervical vertebra. Blood poured from the large hole created by the .50 caliber bullet that had just crashed into my body as a fully loaded tractor-trailer would a small sports car. 
Similar stories could be told about hundreds of American service men and women from all over these United States. They have been shot and blown up; their bodies beaten and burned. While some may consider those people heros, the real heros are the dedicated Americans near by that pick up the cross and help the injured to carry on. They are the doctors and nurses who see the mangled bodies that war leaves behind, and the therapist tasked with aiding service members in their fight to rebuild lives they once knew. Still, more often, the ones who have the most impact are average Americans that believe it is their duty to, with a grateful heart, shake the hand of someone who is no different than they, except for the path that life has taken them down. Groups such as Welcome Home Soldiers have committed themselves to the work of supporting those who are now fighting a much different fight. These people represent the True American Heart. 
              The story will not end with me. It will continue day after day until there are no more wars to be fought and no more blood left to shed. I’ve had the rare honor of seeing such a heart up close and very personal on a near day to day basis. No, this is not the life I would have chosen and yes, I would make some changes if I could but my physical wounds have not left me bitter or angry. Instead, they have left me more proud to be an American than before. And though I did not choose it, my mission is much different now than in those days that were full of combat. My mission is to spread the word that our heart beats strong and free now just as it has all throughout  our history. America remains strong and free because we are not governed by what happens on Wall Street, or political powers above us. Our conviction is our drive. Our heart is our fuel. As Lt. Col. Jimmy Doolittle said, “There is nothing stronger than the heart of a volunteer. With it beats the spirit of service, generosity and compassion...and the health and well-being of our community, our country and our world." This is the true American Heart.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

What Am I To Do?

What am I to do? I'm dying to step back into my boots as an Airborne Medic but I can't and most likely never will. It's like I'm starving and I can see the food that my body needs so badly to survive, but I can't seem to get to it.

I don't belong in this (civilian) world anymore. I don't fit the mold. Once I made the decision to don my country's uniform, I signed on to a new way of life. This way is honorable and noble. It holds special value, but only because so few ever make the true commitment. Surely, the individuals themselves are nothing, but the whole stands above all others. The commitment runs as deep as the very nature of who I am as a person. In fact, who I am and what this job requires are intertwined. This way of life demands the kind of devotion that pushes me to do it, even if no one ever knows about the sacrifice. In other words, no credit needed. Furthermore, credit is shunned in an effort to keep my devotion in it's purest form. I'm totally pledged to my place in the larger picture. I know it. I've embraced it. I love it all the way down to my core. I stand ready to lay down my life for those in the same suit of armor. Spilling blood for my country, as it is sometimes necessary, is accompanied by approbation. Not in a prideful, arrogant way, but one that says to those who oppose our great nation, "We will gladly give it all and we're proud to do so."

What am I to do if this way of life is taken from me and I am forced to return to the old self? Men and women are dying on battlefields around the world and I am forced to enjoy the comforts that are taken for granted each day. My warm, soft bed and my climate controlled apartment only add to my guilty conscience. How am I to live comfortably when other whom I care deeply for are suffering for the most nobel causes? This guilt is what drives me to live each day as though it were a gift given. A cause is a cause no mater how it is attained. This Christmas season, my goal is to be extra grateful for all that I have been given including, but not limited to, family, possessions of comfort ( A/C, bedding, vehicles, roads that don't explode, and so on), democracy, and many other small things that make up the life I live that is so blessed. We all choose to either bring honor or disgrace upon ourselves each new morning. I suppose most days, by night fall, I have failed in some way but I fear the day I stop trying when the sun rises in the east.