My son wanted to have a few words with me about my military service so he could do an essay on a relative who has been in the military. Not unlike my on-line life, I don’t talk much about myself personally and how I was affected by different aspects of my time in the United States Air Force. Sure, I talk about places I’ve seen or people I have met but I rarely talk about the uglier side of having served. Even after all the years I still don’t know exactly how to put it into words and make it understandable. I have never chose to block out certain things but I do put them way back in a dark place where they won’t be bothered. These things make me angry, they make me sad, they still confuse me a bit, and I think they will always be uncomfortable for me to talk about to someone face to face. I asked my son if he would let me take the opportunity to just write down some things and he can pick and choose what he feels is useable and appropriate. The following is what I wrote.
“There are things that I just can’t explain. There are things I don’t yet understand. There are still things that I may never try to comprehend. There are things that one can not understand unless they have been a soldier because they have not been touched in the same way. There are things that I have seen and done which were said to be for the country I have served. I was taken, as many were, to be trained to build weapons which are used to destroy man, machine, land, and structure. We were not trained of the aftermath. We were not trained to witness the destruction of our weapons that have functioned flawlessly. We were trained that it is a great day when our weapons function as designed. We were not trained to see or cope with the awful sights of destruction that was accomplished by the weapons we built. We were not trained how to unsee the things we have seen. We were not trained how to not let these sights keep us awake at night.
I have learned to not discuss the wounds I have, some physical, some mental, and some which can’t be explained. There is not training for dealing with life after seeing the weapons I have built function as designed. The wounds of our bodies heal in time but the wounds to the mind have no cure. I have to live with my demons now and for every day until I pass. I have learned to put my hurts behind me. I still feel things that hurt me deep to my core but I have learned that people don’t understand because they have not seen what I have seen. I have found, not by choice, that there are memories which are blocked because I know I don’t want to remember them, I don’t have a need in my life to relive certain aspects of my prior life. I am very proud to have served my country in the United States Air Force and have very deep respect and admiration for anyone who makes the choice to serve in our Nation’s military. I try not to dwell on friends I have lost, those who have paid the price in full, and I know that it is because of we choose to serve that we protect the future of freedom for many generations to come.”
My son copied word for word what I wrote in seclusion into a handwritten two paragraph essay which he was very pleased to turn into his teacher. He informed his mother, with tears in his eyes, that he did not care what grade he would receive because he just was happy to turn in the words of his dad. He walked to me, reached out to me, hugged me with a squeeze I had never felt from anyone, and then he looked up to me with a sad face to say “I’m sorry dad, I love you no matter what”. I didn’t want to let him go, I didn’t want the feeling to ever end. He gave me a new memory that day, a memory of a son’s love for his father, it is unconditional.