As a veteran and a Marine today is one of those days that I am haunted by the past. I look to the left and right of me, no one is there but I still see the faces of friends who have fallen before me. Lives I’ve held in my hand but let slip through my fingers like water in a stream.
Dead baby jokes whispered quietly just under the ringing in my ears. Laughs shared; tears shed. My brothers in arms, my family; or at least the closest thing I ever had to family. Not a day goes by where I don’t think about how many of them, people I knew, will have their wives or girlfriends wake up in the morning and roll over to an empty bed, the warmth stolen from them just like the last breaths of their loved ones.
What do you tell a woman when you were supposed to protect the man she loved?
You tell her you did your best, then you shut up and she tells you exactly what she thinks of your best and where you can shove it.
I’ve attended more funerals than I like to admit. Made promises to mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, wives and girlfriends. Promises I knew I could not keep but anything to give them one more peaceful night’s sleep. I’ve been called a hero and a monster in the same day, been thanked for coming home and told I should be the one in the box.
Frankly, I wish I had been, no one would have had to cry for me.
However, this isn’t about me, it’s about the impression those fine men left on me. They gave their lives to protect the guy next to them just like any one of us would’ve done had the roles been changed. People gravitate towards calling my generation lazy or useless. I’ve served with men that prove otherwise and I’m proud to say that.
Today is the day that I remember all the good times shared, and cry over all the good times that will never be. A day where I look over and see them, sun burnt, sand etched into the creases of their dirty faces, the contrast of the dark dirt on the skin makes their smiles seem even whiter. I can see it so clearly that I reach out to grab them and pull them home, only to end with a fist full of air.
Today is the day that I remember the last words, spoken to me by a friend:
I know you’ll keep me alive Sergeant, I don’t want to die.
Sorry Marine, but I did my best.