Well, we come to another Memorial Day. This is one of my favorite federal holidays. This is the day that we have designated to say thank you to our brave men and women who serve in our military. Not just the ones serving at this very moment in lands far away, and in areas of great peril, but more importantly, we say thank you to the memories of those soldiers that have made the ultimate sacrifice; the soldiers that have died on the field of battle.
I fancy myself a pretty patriotic person. I may not agree with most of what our government is about a lot of the time, but that has never affected the way I view the men and women who wear “The Uniform.” I spent some time in the military myself. This probably adds to my patriotism a bit.
I don’t talk about my time in the military very much, or even discuss it with people who aren’t very close to me. To me, it’s kind of like that scene in Saving Private Ryan where Matt Damon’s character asks Tom Hank’s character to tell him about the memories he has of his wife gardening (to help provide some thoughts of home), to which Hanks replies, “No, those are mine.”
I don’t discuss it with too many people not for the reasons you may be thinking. It’s not because anything really bad happened, or I may be ashamed of my time, or that I am haunted by something from my past. Actually it’s quite the opposite. Those four years I now hold very dear to my heart, as well as the people that shared them with me. I hold them so dear that I almost feel like sharing them with too many people, especially those who may not understand the military way of life, may sully the very things I love so much. Then again, maybe they do need to be shared. Maybe that’s the only way people will truly understand or appreciate.
I also struggle with talking about my time in service out of some guilt too. That guilt comes from not being with my brothers and sisters during this almost 10 years of war. I’m sure some of you are a bit confused by that statement. I was Honorably Discharged (almost sounds like a prison release, lol) from the United States Army on September 7, 2001. Take a look at that date again. My release date from the military, and subsequently the date I was supposed to start my long awaited civilian life began 4 days before the most horrific attack on U.S. soil, September 11, 2001; the day the Twin Towers fell.
I sat and watched every minute of coverage (as did most Americans) for 3 days straight. I don’t think I slept one ounce. I also stared at the phone for a long time. Waiting for that phone call; “Cruse, bring your butt back to base. You’ve been called back.” But the call never came. Over the next year or so I saw many news stories about soldiers being called back after being out for years. Also soldiers with disabilities (like me) were being called back to active duty and sent overseas; many of them never returned. I fit every criteria needed to be called back to active duty; I was young, I was from a combat-arms job, my disabilities were debilitating, and I had only recently ETS’d (that’s what it is called when you get out). But still, the call never came.
My guilt only compounded when I started hearing stories of soldiers I knew and served with that had fallen in battle. I fell into a deep depression that lasted for several years. Because of that depression I did things (which I will not go into) and said things out of anger that I wish everyday I could take back. I couldn’t understand why I wasn’t called back. Why was I so special not to have to go to war with the rest of my friends?
I use the word friends to describe the guys I served with, and I know that it is not a fitting description. I am stuck using the word friend because there is no such word to describe how I feel about the men I served with. They are all like family to me. Many of them, hell, most of them I have not seen in 10 years and only get to communicate with them over Facebook, but I know if I ever do get to see them again it will be like no time has gone by. I love those guys with all my heart.
It’s a bond no one who has not served can ever describe or understand…..and NO, people who think playing on sports team can somehow relate; you cannot. I hate when those A-Holes on ESPN say that these athletes are warriors, and are going to war on the field.
Some of you reading who know me personally are probably a little shocked at the amount of info I am sharing at this moment, seeing how I’m not the most sharing person in the world. A lot of these emotions got stirred up a couple of weeks ago when I was sitting on the couch while my wife was watching one of her DVR’d shows.
My wife Stephanie loves to watch this show called Brothers and Sisters. The premise of the show is about a family who argues all the freaking time, and that’s about it. One of the “semi-normal” characters on the show is named Justin; he’s the youngest of all the kids. Justin is a recovering addict of pain pills and alcohol. He is also a former soldier who was wounded and nearly killed on his second tour in Iraq, thus the pain pills. At the end of the first season Justin is called back for that second tour. Currently the show just ended its fourth season. Justin is currently going to med school, which he is not enjoying, and still searching for his place in life. As the season was coming to a close Justin learned that one of his best friends was killed while in Afghanistan. Justin starts to feel the itch to go back into the Army and go back to serve with his brothers. His wife cannot understand this issue, and pushes him away and tells him he’s crazy for feeling this way. That part upset me. Justin eventually sees that going back is not the answer, and putting himself in harm’s way is no way to honor his fallen friend’s memory. But he said something at the end of the episode that I felt finally helped me put words what I have been feeling for all these years.
Justin said that, “He’s been constantly fighting to find a place where he fits in since leaving the military” and that “being with his brothers (in arms) was the best feeling in the world because he knew that was where he belonged to something.” Though the show drives me nuts, this moment actually gave me pause because I knew that this was the exact thing I had been fighting these years as well. Though I served in a time of peace, I still felt that draw to be with my brothers when it was time to actually do our job. To do what it was we had been training all that time for.
I have friends who are still serving over in Iraq and Afghanistan and I worry about them everyday. I pray for their safe return more than anyone knows.
It’s funny, I can remember spending so much time while in the Army bitching and complaining about being away from home, and how I couldn’t wait to get out, and blah blah blah. But once I got out and got home, I thought everyone was so different. In actuality it was me that was different. I looked at the world through different glasses. I saw people in a different light. I was changed forever, and I longed, and sometimes still do, to be back with the people I had spent that time with.
I am glad to say that I have come to grips with my feelings of guilt, and thankfully beat my depression. I know that I was brought home for a reason. Though I still yearn to be with my brothers, fighting side by side, I know that it was not meant to be for me. It was not my path.
I just want to say thank you. Thank you for serving. Thank you to those who served and gave the ultimate sacrifice. But most of all, thank you to all those who served with me, were my friends, and helped me become the man I am today. You know who you are, and whether you are still serving or you have joined the ranks of the citizen-soldiers like me, I salute every single one of you every day.