As most of you know I am not a person that watches TV or movies at all and when I do it is along the lines of Golden Girl’s and What About Bob. I don’t like to be sad and I don’t like to cry. Never have. I dislike it so much, I don’t do it. After my brother died, I let myself be a little more emotional, but mostly I am a I don’t like this, so lets not think about it and move on kind of person. This past year, I have not cried much, but I have been trying to let myself feel pain. To think about things that are not pleasant or are down right tough and to feel them.
War makes me sad. I hate it. I hate what we ask these men and women to do and I have never wanted to know the full extent of the sacrifices. I know very little about war for a woman who’s husband served 20 years in the Marines. When he was in Somalia with HMLA 369, he sent me a picture of himself standing in front of a building that had recently been shelled. He was in his green PT shorts, shirtless and bone skinny. He had a rifle flung over his back and those images so terrified me, I never watched a single piece of news on the the events taking place over there.
This is about as much as I knew…
On November 28, 1992, HMLA-369 began planning for Operation Restore Hope, the international United Nations humanitarian relief effort in Somalia. On December 3, 1992, the Gunfighters were assigned as the force in readiness and by January 1, 1993, the entire squadron was deployed to Baledogle, Somalia, as the sole light attack helicopter squadron in theater operating under Marine Aircraft Group 16 HMLA -369 flew a variety of missions including Close In Fire Support, Command and Control, MEDEVAC, Escort, Visual and Photo Reconnaissance, Logistical Supply, VIP, and Non Governmental Organization (NGO) support. HMLA-369 logged 1,098 flight hours during January. The Gunfighters returned to Camp Pendleton in April 1993.
November 1993 saw the Gunfighters depart for Okinawa in support of the UDP deployment Program. Additionally, the Gunfighters provided detachments for the 11th and 31st Marine Expeditionary Units (Special Operations Capable) (MEU(SOC)). The Gunfighter 11th MEU(SOC) Detachment supported Operation Continue Hope and Operation Distant Runner, aiding in the evacuation of Americans from war torn Rwanda.
My husband was there in 1992 and 1994.
I had no idea how dangerous and out of control that country was. I really didn’t understand the nature of it until the movie Blackhawk Down came out. I assumed my husband would want to see it. He did not. When I asked him why, he said “It’s to close to home.” We still have not seen it.
I have been trying to understand more about combat mindset, self defense, strength, courage and sacrifice. I have always known the qualities of my husband’s character. I know why he was such a good Marine, such a good man, but I have never had the courage to face what he faced. I dealt with life as a Marine wife, by doing. I volunteered for every organization on the base and I worked at helping families. I kept busy doing and I rarely stopped. Stopping meant thinking and I did not want to think.
Yesterday we watched “We Were Soldiers”. I understand it is not the most graphic movie that was ever made, but for me it was tough to watch. My husband has seen a good deal of combat. He was not a tip of the spear kind of Marine. He was not a sniper, he was not special forces, he was not infantry and so I think that made it easier for me to believe that he was off on some USO Tour and not really fighting. Of course, there were times throughout his career where pretending was not possible. There were times when I had to face the realities of a life in service to your country. We lost friends, I attended services for the fallen, I cooked meals for their families, I watched their children, I stayed up nights wondering if I would get a knock on the door, I comforted those who did, but mostly, I just kept my head down and did everything I could not to feel, not to know.
My husband saw combat both as a young Lance Corporal and later as a company commander leading a truck company of 400 Marines across the line of departure into Iraq, so for him watching these movies is also tough. The first time he watched We Were Soldiers, it was before he deployed to Iraq. He found it motivating. He has not seen it since, but he said yesterday he watched it from a different perspective. He saw it more from the leadership position, from the loss of my men side and that just kind of always sucks.
I was struck by the part of the movie where the men are getting ready to leave to join the war. There are long dramatic silences just before they head out. I don’t know if that was in the book, if that is what happened for these families or if it was added for dramatic effect, but for us, that is exactly what it was like. We barely spoke, for days, weeks before my husband left for Somalia. Mostly because the work ups were so time consuming, I just never saw him. Before he left for Iraq he was involved in war plans and could not speak of what he was doing. His mind was heavy with the burden of leading his Marines forward and leaving his family behind. I didn’t have any idea what to say, so I didn’t try. Mostly we just touched, but almost never spoke. Those days leading up to a deployment there is a distance that is hard to explain. We didn’t fight or argue, but there was a separation, a heaviness, a numbness. Having his skin on mine was the only thing I could feel and it said more than any words could.
I had no real idea of what happened in Vietnam. I knew the school book accounts and the public perception, but I didn’t really know. My family didn’t like to talk about the war. My cousin Billy’s helicopter went down over there and he died. I never knew him, but the pain and torture of his death on my family left such an ache in me it was like he is a part of me. The only thing I know of his life was his death and even that was mostly about the agony. It’s been 45 years since my cousin’s death and it is still the central part his parents days. Ironically, my family has spent so much of their life trying to avoid the pain of Billy’s death that it is actually the only thing they feel. That is not a judgement. It’s an observation.
Today I wanted to know more about his life and about his death, so I did some research. How strange that I miss him so much. How strange that I have an overwhelming desire to know him. I don’t know what I would say, but more than anything, I want to wrap my arms around him. I want to feel the person and not his ghost. I want to feel the flesh of man who’s memory I have carried with me and who I have loved all of my life. How strange it is that not feeling hurts so much.