Memorial Day was a day of remembrance, but also a day to put aside differences in opinions and thoughts about the war and appreciate the men and women currently serving our country.
As the day approached, I began thinking of my friends in the military. We dedicate one day for remembering and saying thanks, but they dedicate every day of their lives while they serve.
And, then, I realized I wanted to dig deeper and learn more about their military lives.
While the two friends I spoke with have different experiences with the Marine Corps, many of their thoughts paralleled.
One friend, who has been deployed to Iraq twice but is currently stationed in the United States, joined the USMC five days after high school.
I joined to fight, pure and simple. It was a mixture of 9/11 and a sense of duty.
The other friend, currently in Portugal, joined the year after high school and said he joined to bring meaning to his life and give back to others.
Both spoke of the fellowship among Marines.
We’re all brothers and we all have the same life inside the Marine Corps. I would die for any Marine, knowing them or not. They went through the same training and hardships as I did. We share that.
I have gained discipline, friends who became brothers, tenacity, and a results-based mindset.
These young men also spoke of the difficult aspects of the military.
When you’re deployed, you miss family, you miss the warmth of your loved ones. There are often long, cold, hungry nights. I feel like I’ve given up college life and those kinds of experiences.
I have lost time, health, and I have missed out on a lot. I barely know my son.
Unfortunately, the friend who says he has lost his health now suffers from Meniere’s disease, an inner ear disorder that affects balance and hearing, because of the gunshots and explosions.
The Marine Corps has brought a wealth of experiences to their lives, though.
In my short years, I have done more than most. The best time I had in Iraq was when I was sleeping on a cot, eating MREs, and getting a shower every few weeks. I was actually in it then.
I’ve gained so much. I’ve seen the world. I’ve been to Iraq, Germany, Africa, Switzerland, Ireland, Belgium, Denmark…
One of the young men mentioned Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s poem “Ulysses.”
“I cannot rest from travel: I will drink
Life to the lees: all times I have enjoyed
Greatly, have suffered greatly, both with those
That loved me, and alone”
It states it perfectly. I have drunken life to the lees.
The other friend said joining the Marine Corps saved his life.
If I hadn’t joined the Marine Corps, I would be struggling and wondering what life is like beyond Wilkes County. It made me into a better person and man. There are so many things I’ve learned.
Sometimes the lessons learned in the Marine Corps were not pleasant.
I fought a few times and it wasn’t what I thought it would be. They train us and make us want to fight, but often don’t prepare you for the grim reality of the results. It’s not fun to do a raid on a house where the scumbag you’re after lives, kill him, and see his entire family crying in the next room. A mother does not thank you for ‘liberating’ them after you kill her son.
I listened to my friends, who have been pushed to their limits again and again physically, mentally and emotionally.
I wake up in the middle of the night fighting nothing. Sometimes it breaks my heart and other times I am thankful.
We all lose parts of ourselves through life, but something always comes to fill it. Fear, anger, hate: it can all be conquered. After that, we gain strength.
I listened to them, engrossed in their stories, and tried to understand what they have experienced. What these men have faced, though, I couldn’t begin to imagine or comprehend.
After all, they shared their experiences with me, but I didn’t actually stand beside them and share their experiences.
I said ‘thank you,’ and realized my simple, weak thanks could never be enough for what these men have done and for what has been done by the other members of the military. The response I received, though, was nearly as overwhelming as the stories these men shared.
Contrary to popular belief, most of us don’t want thanks or recognition. I think I can speak for most in service who have been in combat when I say we just want to know we did well and we didn’t let our friends down when they needed us.
I might not have walked as your comrade in battle, my friends, but you have certainly never let me down. You have done and continue to do well. And, although cliché and unsolicited, I’ll keep saying it to both of you and all the others out there serving: Thank You. Thank you for ‘drinking life to the lees’ so that I can, too.
Kristin L. Zachary