Sunday, May 24, 2015

I Am An American Soldier


I am an American soldier.  In 1776 I fought an enemy ten times my pursuit of a glorious dream.  In that first winter an infant Congress could not feed or clothe I spent the winter at Valley Forge eating grub worms and the barks off of trees, slept in mud and marched barefoot through the snow....because you asked me to.

I am an American soldier.  In 1861 I donned the Blue or the Gray, slung my rifle over my shoulder, carried Apple Sauce Johnny-Cakes in my pack and set off to fight for "the glorious cause".  I crouched knee-deep in blood at Cold Harbor as 7,000 of us died in twenty minutes.  At Gettysburg I stood on Little Round Top, our ammo spent, as we watched Johnny Reb charge up the hill with fire and thunder.  Our leader, an English professor from Maine, rallied our spirits and instilled in us the raw courage to counter charge with knife and bayonet...and we held our point and won the battle.  And in the spring of '65, after 600,000 of us gave our lives, our generals met at Appomattox and signed a treaty of peace as the armies of victory and defeat stood outside.  Emaciated and starved, the boys in gray were startled as the boys in Blue gave us rations and let us keep our horses and guns and set us on the road to home.  As young as 12 and as old as 60, we served...because you asked us too.

I am an American soldier.  In 1917 I was sent to France to fight and win "the war to end all wars".  I stood in trenches and lost limb or life, or had my lungs scorched by mustard gas, and won the peace.  I was sent home and learned to walk with a wooden leg and do with one arm what normally calls for two.  We did all that...because you asked us to.

I am an American soldier.  By 1939 my country watched as the Fascists defeated the forces of freedom, one after another.  Weary of foreign conflict, my country embraced neutrality, satisfied to let those silly Europeans fight their own wars.  Then, one early December morning in 1941 we awakened to learn of a vicious attack that would claim 3,000 American lives.  Millions of us rushed to recruiting depots the next morning and volunteered to defend our country.  And we would leave our loved ones and our home, to be gone for years.  And we would fight in steamy Asian jungles and in hip deep European snow drifts and march 30 miles through the mud to meet the enemy time after time.  Such was our love of country, such was our courage, such was our acceptance of death, that when we set off in a squadron of B-17's we knew that half of us would not return.  And when this world wide brutal war was at last finished there would be 50 million fewer humans occupying the earth.  We served through it all....because you asked us to.

I am an American soldier.  While my civilian counterparts were arguing over skin color, we integrated the armed forces a good two decades before America did so.  There are no atheists, or bigots, in fox holes. 

I am an American soldier.  Early in the next decade I would dig in at Pork Chop Hill and watch my companions die...and freeze to death at the Chosun Reservoir.  And I would witness bravery that is beyond even my comprehension as we fought, outnumbered and under equipped, the armies of two nations.  Then I would be sent home under the auspices of a shaky truce, still not settled after more than fifty years.  I went to Korea...because you asked us too.

I am an American soldier.  Beginning in 1965 I would be sent to South Vietnam in force.  Vietnam would prove to be America's first decade long war.  And, unlike previous wars, our battle plans would be drawn up in the basement of the White House.  Rather than allowing our war planners to identify what and where to bomb, our bombing plans originated in the White House, and all were dependent on how our civilian leaders assessed the political impact of an offensive operation.  And, unlike previous wars, where territory was to be won or lost, our leaders decided victory or defeat would be measured by the body count of the enemy.   The war then hinged on how many losses our enemy leaders were willing to accept, which our leaders later learned the answer; "infinite".  Four years into the war 550,000 of us would be fighting in Vietnam.  We would endure jungle humidity, deadly snakes, leeches, punji sticks, disease, home-made trip wires and all manner of obstacles.  Though we killed our enemy at a ten to one loss ratio, our casualties were massive.  Some 55,000 Americans would die in Vietnam and half a million would come home without legs and arms, and many would die of Agent Orange related disease in the next four decades.   So ugly was this war that a million Vietnam vets never mentally recovered.  Those that didn't kill themselves, live in homeless in shelters and under highway bridges even today, unable to work or function in society, plagued by Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  We who did come home were called baby killers as Americans spit in our face or, at best, chose to ignore us entirely.  No "welcome home" for us, no parades.  But we went to Vietnam and we fought valiantly and fiercely...because you asked us to.

I am an American soldier.  Some 36 years after the last American left Vietnam America would awaken on a bright sunny morning to nightmare on 9/11.  Some 3,000 innocents would lose their lives that morning, as Islamic terrorists took the lives of so many, all in the name of their god.  Once again, the recruiting offices were swamped with young men and women anxious to avenge the attack on America and to defend our way of life.  Sadly, our armed forces are far smaller than at any time in recent history.  We would be called on time and again, tour after tour, in Iraq and Afghanistan.  In Iraq we would be asked to occupy a foreign nation in a vain attempt to democratize a Muslim nation.  Our civilian leaders would ask us to do the same in Afghanistan, and to achieve our mission with less than half of the forces we had in uniform two decades previously.  We've done our best.  Many of us come home in the dead of night, in silver coffins.  Many more come home sans legs or arms, or both.  We deploy to these far off places, endure loneliness, pain, injury and death...because you asked us to.

I am an American soldier.  In peace time you'll find us ferrying food and medical supplies to Haiti, or Africa or to a storm damaged Asian country.  You'll find us mounting air and water rescues of flood victims.  You'll find us digging out the victims of an earthquake.  In less "official" capacity you'll find us running to the aid of a Boston Marathon runner, binding the stump of a leg and physically carrying him to an aid station, while hundreds stand and watch.  At Christmas time you'll find us distributing a million toys to kids who would have no Christmas otherwise.  We do it because the tradition of "service" has been instilled in us.

I am an American soldier.  For some 240 years our service traditions have served our country well.  Our civilian leaders have now decided those traditions must now fall by the way side so that "diversity" is now the watchword.  Our Commander In Chief has declared that we must be just a little bit more quiet in our advocacy and belief in God, that we must bend over backwards to celebrate alternative religions and lifestyles, that we must more closely identify with a changing set of moral standards.  As an American soldier I have been taught that love and service to country must triumph above all else.  I am neither Democrat or Republican except on those rare occasions that I enter the voting booth.  And I must honor and obey the Commander in Chief as that also is our grandest tradition.  We do so....because you asked us to.

I am an American soldier.