Offering frequent news and analysis from the majestic Evergreen State and beyond, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Looking through the eyes of a soldier

This coming Thursday is Veterans Day, which is began as a commemoration of the end of a war, but is now an occasion when we come together to honor those who have served our country. In my view, we really can't honor or celebrate something without at least having an image in our minds of what it's like.

With that in mind, this Veterans Day — rather than write a post on veterans' issues — I'm posting a short essay that someone recently gave to me.

This essay is entitled "The Warrior's Code of Honor" and was written by a wounded veteran who wished to remain anonymous. In it, he tries to outline not just the mind of a soldier in combat, but the mind of one of our returning heroes and the demons that still lurk there... demons we asked them to accept.
The Warrior’s Code of Honor

As a combat veteran wounded in one of America’s wars, I offer to speak for those who cannot.

Were the mouths of my fallen front-line friends not stopped with dust, they would testify that life revolves around honor.

In war, it is understood that you give your word of honor to do your duty — that is — stand and fight instead of running away and deserting your friends. When you keep your word despite desperately desiring to flee the screaming hell all around, you earn honor.

Earning honor under fire changes who you are. The blast furnace of battle burns away impurities encrusting your soul. The white-hot forge of combat hammers you into a hardened, purified warrior willing to die rather than break your word to friends — your honor.

Combat is scary but exciting. You never feel as alive as when being shot at without result.

You never feel as triumphant as when shooting back — with result. You never feel love as pure as that burned into your heart by friends willing to die to keep their word to you. And they do.

The biggest sadness of your life is to see friends falling. The biggest surprise of your life is to survive the war. Although still alive on the outside, you are dead inside — shot thru the heart with nonsensical guilt for living while friends died. The biggest lie of your life torments you that you could have done something more, different, to save them. Their faces are the tombstones in your weeping eyes, their souls shine the true camaraderie you search for the rest of your life but never find.

You live a different world now. You always will. Your world is about waking up night after night silently screaming, back in battle. Your world is about your best friend bleeding to death in your arms, howling in pain for you to kill him. Your world is about shooting so many enemies the gun turns red and jams, letting the enemy grab you. Your world is about struggling hand-to-hand for one more breath of life.

You never speak of your world. Those who have seen combat do not talk about it. Those who talk about it have not seen combat. You come home but a grim ghost of he who so lightheartedly went off to war. But home no longer exists. That world shattered like a mirror the first time you were shot at. The hurricane winds of war have hurled you far away to a different world — the Warrior’s World — where your whole life is about keeping your word or die trying. But people in the civilian world have no idea that life is about keeping your word — they think life is about babies and business.

The distance between the two worlds is as far as Mars from Earth. This is why, when you come home, you feel like an outsider — a visitor from another planet. You are.

People you knew before the war try to make contact. It is useless. Words fall like bricks between you.

Serving with warriors who died proving their word has made prewar friends seem too untested to be trusted – thus they are now mere acquaintances. And they often stay that way because, like most battle-hardened Warriors, you prefer not to risk fully trusting anyone whose life is not devoted to keeping their word, their honor.

The hard truth is that doing your duty under fire makes you alone, a stranger in your own home town. The only time you are not alone is when with another combat veteran.

Only he understands that keeping your word, your honor, whilst standing face to face with death gives meaning and purpose to life.

Only he understands that spending a mere 24 hours in the broad, sunlit uplands of battle-proven honor is more deeply satisfying to a man than spending a whole lifetime in safe, comfortably numb civilian life with DNA compelling him to anguish endlessly over whether he is a brave man or a coward.

Only he understands that your terrifying – but thrilling – dance with death has made your old world of babies, backyards and ballgames seem deadly dull.

Only he understands that your way of being due to combat damaged emotions is not the un-usual, but the usual, and you are OK.

Although you walk thru life alone, you are not lonely. You have a constant companion from combat — Death. It stands close behind, a little to the left. Death whispers in your ear: “Nothing matters outside my touch, and I have not touched you...YET!”

Death never leaves you — it is your best friend, your most trusted advisor, your wisest teacher.

Death teaches you that every day above ground is a fine day.

Death teaches you to feel fortunate on good days, and bad days... well, they do not exist.

Death teaches you that merely seeing one more sunrise is enough to fill your cup of life to the brim — pressed down and running over!

Death teaches you that you can postpone its touch by earning serenity.

Serenity is earned by a lot of prayer and acceptance. Acceptance is taking one step out of denial and accepting/allowing your repressed, painful combat memories to be re-lived/suffered thru/shared with other combat vets — and thus de-fused. Each time you accomplish this act of courage/desperation:

the pain gets less;

more tormenting combat demons hiding in the darkness of your gut are thrown out into the sunlight of awareness, where they disappear in a puff of smoke;

the less bedeviling combat demons, the more serenity earned;

serenity is, regretfully, rather an indistinct quality, but it manifests as a sense of honor, a sense of calm, and gratitude to your creator — which lengthens life span.

Down thru the dusty centuries it has always been thus. It always will be, for what is seared into a man’s soul who stands face to face with death never changes.
To veterans everywhere across America: Thank you for your service to our country, and your sacrifice. It's greatly appreciated.


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