Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Finding your way

"Excuse me, ma'am," he offered as he nodded toward the window. I didn't notice until I stood to let him pass and he tucked into the seat next to me. The lower half of his leg built by cosmesis rather than what he was given at birth. He wore his standard issue fatigues but the pant leg on one side revealed an artificial limb. His persona seemed old soul. And the fatigues and limb would lend an older, more seasoned appearance than his face ever could. He didn't look old enough to buy cigarettes.

We were flying to Seattle from Atlanta. He had recently returned to the US from a third consecutive tour in Iraq. This time, with a permanent injury coupled with an honorable discharge. As we shared a conversation, I was astounded at the level of calm and ease he used to talk about the real-life scenarios that seemed brutal and surreal to me. When he revealed he had just turned 22, I sensed the formidable sadness in his voice that his "career" as he hoped it would develop, was terminated.

It wasn't the loss of part of his body that disenchanted him, but that commitment to the Armed Forces had been prematurely disrupted. His willingness to serve, to stand, to sacrifice could no longer be engaged by the United States Military.

I asked him how he maintained not only the enthusiasm to rise to be assiduous every day in such an extreme environment, but also the belief that the war was the right action in the grim and very real face of death. He said everyone doesn't. War and the caustic realizations of what it truly means is not the same as reading about it in the news. But he felt he had no alternative. Once you enlist, you are committed for life. He followed with, "Or until you have no choice," indicating his leg.

I certainly could not compare notes or offer anecdotes about "I know how you feel." My greatest imagination could not conjure up what a single and real day in that environment would be like.

"How do you feel about returning home?" I asked.
He was contemplative before answering, "A little lost."

Death could have taken him. Another name on a long roster that goes beyond this war into every corner of every country. While he did sacrifice a limb, he certainly never forfeited his valor, or his ambition. And hopefully that ambition would become bigger, and broader to help him navigate his way. A way beyond feeling irrevocably displaced.

In baggage claim at SeaTac, I saw her before she saw him. The face washed with what only comes from holding your breath for three tours of duty. The look of impatience and searching superimposed over a very real foundation of frantic. She could only be at peace perhaps when she could see him, and hug him with her own arms. When she saw him, she pulled on the arm of the man with her. He couldn't get to the boy fast enough. His son.

When he introduced me, I saw in his parents the awe of having their child back. They were proud. And they were relieved. And the force of it made me relieved for them. A force I would not even begin to appreciate in some microcosmic way until I had a child of my own.

Tomorrow is Veteran's Day in the US. Originally called Armistice Day in 1919, the day intended to recognize WWI vets. The holiday changed to "All Veterans" in 1945. And this holiday is pertinent to almost 30 million veterans in the United States. I have my own opinions about war, and its cost. But the freedom that affords me to have and vocalize such opinions was freedom paid for by people willing to go to war. And I have gratitude for that gift.

At 22, Corporal Foster was the youngest veteran I had ever met. Wherever you are, I hope you are finding your way.

96 comments:

Laura Trevey said...

So powerful and touching to the heart strings!!!

xo Laura

Jules said...

It really makes me sick to my stomach that we are making these YOUNG people go back and back and back ........ My heart goes out to him and to all of the soldiers who are over there and home!

the walking man said...

Welcome home brothers and sisters.

It is not the condition of return that matters most to a veteran but the personal honor found in the service.

Helena Halme said...

What a beautifully written post. Brought tears to my eyes.
Helena xx

Little Ms Blogger said...

What a wonderful post.

It is true that I am not a fan of war, but agree that it affords me the luxury of being able to speak my mind.

The Sharer said...

Jenn, this is a great story. We who have served appreciate those who are serving and it's good to see folks who care too. Nice job.

S

Matthew said...

I have mentioned this elsewhere, but it seems more about Anzac Day here in Australia than it does Armistice Day. I'm a little uncomfortable with that.

This was a special posting.

Theta Mom said...

This was one of the most compelling posts I have read in a long time. You, Jenny Mac, have an amazing talent. Thank you for the important reminder about Veteran's Day and the sacrifies these courageous men and women have made FOR US. And Corporal Foster, wherever you are, I hope you are finding your way, too.

Joshua said...

Well said. Very well said.

-Joshua

Tamara Hart Heiner said...

this post made me teary eyed.

I have a husband in the army. All I ever want is for him to return from deployment (he's home right now) safe and emotionally stable. It's so hard to go through combat and come out well.

Lee the Hot Flash Queen said...

That was beautiful.

JenJen said...

I loved this story, JennyMac.

Ley said...

Lovely words.

Ley
http://overzealousley.blogspot.com/

The Savage said...

This one should be published. This is more an article than a post.
You rock Jenny Mac!

The Peach Tart said...

Nice post. I hope people will take some time tomorrow to honor the vets.

Slamdunk said...

Great post--how easy it is to forget the sacrifices of those in the service.

That One Mom said...

I'm not used to being weepy with my morning coffee.

It's important that we recognize these boys and girls/ men and women are making a choice to enlist and protect the freedoms so many take for granted day in and day out. And they are proud of the job they are doing.

And I know that I am proud of them, inspired by their courage, and in awe of the selflessness it takes for them to give so much of (and in the very unfortunate circumstances - all of) themselves.

Corporal Foster, thank you!

Eric said...

Eloquent and to the point...

Vodka Logic said...

Brilliant as usual JennyMac. And an honor to read.
thanks

Tammy Howard said...

Dang, JennyMac. I think I got something in my eye right around the middle of this...

It's beyond the realm of my imagination, too...

Emily said...

What a touching story. It's so easy to forget the sacrifice these vets made and continue making for us daily. Freedom is not easy to come by, yet so easy to take for granted.

stepfabulous said...

Thanks for sharing, what a way to open our eyes to beyond ourselves and be reminded of the selflessness of others.

ellen abbott said...

My son did two tours in Iraq until his enlistment was up and then he got out. Not all those young people are willing to go to war, those that enlisted in peace times, but like the man said, they have no choice at that point. That year and a half (total time of two separate tours) was the worst time of my life.

Buckeroomama said...

What a great post. I especially love this: "But the freedom that affords me to have and vocalize such opinions was freedom paid for by people willing to go to war. And I have gratitude for that gift." Amen.

Girl With The Golden Touch said...

Wow, this post really gave me goosebumps.
xx

ShellSpann said...

This really tugged at my heart strings. What a wonderful post!! :)

Mrs Montoya said...

What a touching post, JennyMac. I'm speechless

Lisa and Laura said...

This is beautiful! Definitely time to dust off that manuscript Jenny!

Kimi said...

NICE! I'm crying. Hope your happy. Seriously, great post though. Totally got me. Thanks for sharing, Jenny.

Marina said...

Great story and well written JennyMac!
You nailed it by affording.. "me to have and vocalize such opinions was freedom paid ....to go to war."

Kelly @ The Miller Mix said...

Living near two military bases, I find myself constantly reminded of the amazing and selfless sacrifice our men and women are making. I try to let the guys and gals I see everyday know that I appreciate them -- a kind word, a smile, encouraging my child to do the same. We are all so thankful, and tomorrow is the perfect opportunity to make that more obvious. Thanks for the reminder.

Corrie Howe said...

What can I say? This was a beautifully written post. I've grown up in a family of military men all around me...grandfathers, father, brothers, husband and in-laws. I know of no other way.

Mommakiss said...

Beautiful Beautiful post.

strokeofliving said...

Mot of us have someone in our family who has served their country in one area of the enlisted services or another. This is a monumental tribute written monumentally well. Good job!

Tumbleweed said...

Powerful, Powerful post there JM.

Although my time in the "big sandbox" was significantly different from CPL Foster's experience, I am moved by your reflection and insight into this young patriotic soldier's life.

Someone told me recently "America is NOT at war...The armed forces are at war...America is at the mall..." Your post (and the follow-on commentary) just show me that NOT all Americans are at the mall. We still have a core group in the USA that can think and act beyond themselves - that do have a self-driven patriotic mission programmed into their DNA somehow - and I KNOW you know at least one person who fits that bill - you met him in an airport on his way out waaaaay back in 1991!!

This is a very touching post and I am really glad to know this "patriot gene" is alive and well in your soul (not that I EVER had any question about that!)

From one combat vet to all the other Armed Forces Vets - THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVICE and your personal sacrifice - regardless of how you got there...Thank You for serving Our Country just the same!!

And, indeed I also hope CPL Foster (and all his fellow soldiers and sailors) are finding their way.

Heather@WHMB said...

Thanks for this, it was a great reminder!

SpiritPhoenix said...

Thank you so much for sharing this story!

Menopausal New Mom said...

What a beautiful, eye-opening post you did, actually made me tear up! I am in awe of the maturity and calm displayed by the majority of these soldiers, I'm just so proud of them all.

Thanks for posting to remind us of the sacrifices we should all be acknowledging not just tomorrow but everyday.

Barbaloot said...

wow-thanks for sharing that. I have lots of family that has served or is serving in the Air Force. It's nice to know there's at least one day where people will remember them.

confused homemaker said...

Thank you for putting a person to the day & reminding people what is given by so many.

Hope he has found his way.

Too Many Hats said...

What a forceful story. We know a young man, who just got back from a tour in Iraq and he is slated for Afghanastan sometime next year. Honor and commitment are words he lives by.

foxy said...

What a great post, JennyMac! They are definitely the backbone of this great country!!

Michael Rivers said...

Wonderful post. Thanks for sharking the story.

Liza said...

Thank you for writing this.

Summer said...

Beautiful post. I can't even imagine what the families of our soldiers go through. Having three sons myself, it makes me want to curl up in a ball to think of them in those shoes.

Busy Bee Suz said...

What beautiful words Jenny...brought tears to my eyes. We can never know what it means to 'them'...those that stand on the lines no matter what!

Badass Geek said...

Veterans Day is one of our nations most important holidays. Thank you for sharing this story and for reminding us what it's all about.

nifer said...

What a beautiful and REAL post! Thanks for that story, Jenny. It is a good reminder for all of us. I will certainly keep this young man in my thoughts tomorrow, with those who suffered the tragedy last week and my grandfather.

~ Jen

Confessions of a Mother, Lawyer & Crazy Woman said...

Brilliant. So moving. Darn you for making me cry (but in a good way). Thank you for sharing this touching story.

Stephanie said...

Very touching. Thank you for sharing.

courtney*adele said...

it's not easy for any of us former soldiers to get back into 'mainstream america' after being in iraq or afghanistan. after going through the experience of war once, twice, or even six times it doesn't get any easier. thanks for sharing your story. it's nice to know when it seems no one in america is thinking of the soldiers who sacrifice it all on a daily basis ~ that someone's life is touched by one of us! thank you thank you thank you jennymac! you brought a smile to my face this morning.

for everyone else, take time to think about what you have and how a soldier, sailor, airman or marine fought and sacrificed their life for you to be safe and free. happy veterans day to all of my fellow military members! hooah!

Mom in High Heels said...

Oh, Jenny, thanks for this post. I have lived on military bases most of my life (my dad was Navy, dh is Army) and I am continually amazed at the strength of character and conviction of those who serve. They're not perfect (believe me, I know), but they are a different breed of American. I am so proud of them. So proud that they chose to serve and go through so much. I have seen how dh lived in the sandbox and it is not something I would ever, ever, EVER want to do.
We've lost friends and friends have lost husbands and it breaks my heart every time. We have friends who have lost limbs and had life threatening injuries. The interesting thing though, is that not one of those who have come home have said they'd change a thing and all would go back if they could.
I wish only good things to Cpl. Foster and am so grateful that you had a chance to meet him so you could share that experience with all your blog readers.

Stu Pidasso said...

Happy Veteran's Day to Cpl. Foster and all those who have served.....and thank you from me and my two children.

Stu Pidasso said...

And thank you to J-Mac for publishing this. Great post.

Mr. Charleston said...

The second tragedy here is that he's being asked to leave the service. Why? There are thousands of jobs in the service that someone with an artificial limb or in a wheel chair could do. Why not retrain him and let him continue to serve? It's what he wants.

carma said...

Tissues were in order for this post. My close cousin is currently serving in Baghdad.

Corporal Foster is a brave man.

Eva Gallant said...

Wow. You know how to write, girl! That was beautiful, touching, and every other positive adjective I can think of. Thanks for writing and sharing this experience. We take too much for granted, and forget the efforts of those who made it possible!

That Girl39 said...

What a brave young man. Reading something like this as a parent, it truly tugs at your heart. We all sit and make judgements on whether we should be at war and if it's right to send our soldiers off to battle. But I think it's easy to forget there are real people involved in this debate. A beautiful post - thank you.

Mama Kat said...

Beautiful...and thoughtful...and well written!

tiburon said...

What a beautiful post. I love the way you write!

Simply Mel said...

The price of Freedom deserves to have a face put with it, and we must thank these humble, giving, brave soldiers for risking life, limb and lack of time at home with family and friends. They are the voice and hearts of our all-to-often nonchalant existence in a land of free choices and rights.

Exceptional post! Thank you.

Sherri @ Luv a Bargain said...

This is so beautifully written. So many families are taken for granted for what they are enduring having children and husbands serving. Thank you so much for reminding all of us what tomorrow is all about.

Laoch of Chicago said...

Fine post.

mbkatc230 said...

A beautiful post. This really was the perfect tribute for veteran's day. Thank you for sharing this story. It really does make you stop and count your blessings. Kathy

Unknown Mami said...

I am all choked up. That was a beautiful post.

HalfAsstic.com said...

How beautiful, heartfelt and well put, JennyMac. I sincerely hope he is doing well, where ever he is. I will pray for him tonight.

wendy said...

That was very beautiful. Just thinking of those men and women in the Armed Forces and what they do for us brings a tear to my eye.
It is a big deal here in Canada too --Called Rememberance Day, and everyone tries to wear a red poppy pinned to their shirt/coat...whatever.
I remember in elementary school learning the poem
Between the Crosses Row By Row
(wish I could remembe how it went)


The right for us to have OPINIONS and DEMOCRACY comes at a high price I am afraid. God Bless our military

Liz said...

Really excellent post. I love the variety of your blog.

WhisperingWriter said...

Beautiful post.

I teared up.

f8hasit said...

JennyMac...that's the best post I think you've ever written.
Moving. Wonderful.
Thank you.
:-)

Snappy Di said...

I am married to a Viet Nam veteran. Thank you for this beautiful post today.

Di
The Blue Ridge Gal

Sara @ Domestically Challenged said...

Thanks for sharing that. What an awesome tribute right before Veteran's Day.

M-Cat said...

Thanks for the beautiful post! I am crying and hoping you won't mind that tomorrow I will link to you. This was awesome writing...

Conquer The Monkey said...

that is a really beautiful story. i have met a few soldiers in airports over the years, or in fleet week in the big cities, and i have such enormous admiration for the sacrifices they make so that we can maintain our freedom.
Thank you for sharing this....
Cameron

kys said...

What a powerful, moving piece. Very fitting for the holiday. Thanks for reminding us. You always know the right thing to say.

Karyn Bernard (French Charming) said...

What a lovely post, you have me bawling like a baby...damn hormones!

I'm so thankful for the sacrifice that so many have made for my freedom!

blueviolet said...

Thank you for sharing that story as we move into Veterans Day. It's reminders like this that put a face on it for us and touch our hearts.

Leah Rubin said...

Amazing-- you brought tears to my eyes. I'm so grateful that my kids have not had the experience that this current military situation has made so ubiquitous... And feel so guilty about it at the same time... My heart goes out to each and every one of them.

April said...

I've posted an award for you on my blog!

http://crazylittlething-calledlife.blogspot.com/

undomestic chica said...

thank you for sharing. Too often people seem to forget why we celebrate Veteran's Day.

PS
Hope you liked Seattle :)

Susan said...

Wow. That is such a great story. Thanks for sharing!

Candice said...

Thank you for this great post!!

Amanda said...

I'm crying! You couldn't have put this any better JennyMac. Thanks!

Lori said...

Beautiful post and tribute to one of our young hero's. War is ugly the tragedies our young carry home with them is even worst. Lori

Dumblond said...

What a great post.
I come from a family full of veterans and two of my cousins have been to Iraq many times. One of them is now a civilian and the other is awaiting his fourth trip over. He has already seen more tragedy in his young life than I can even imagine. It has changed both of my cousins...
It makes me very happy to hear people supporting our soldiers, even if they do not agree with the war.

Intense Guy said...

Amen.

You've summed it up entirely in a nutshell with your incredible writting skill.

Pricilla said...

Thank you.

The girl with the flour in her hair said...

Great post. Really makes you stop and think and be grateful for what they're doing for us, and for what we have.

Denise @ Sunflowers, Chocolate and Little Boys said...

That really puts into perspective how much these brave men and women give of themselves. Thanks for posting this.

Vivienne said...

My dad is a retired Marine. He joined during the Korean War, did 4 tours in Viet Nam.... I am so grateful to him and all those who serve.
Yet... my 17 year old is telling me he is thinking of joining the Air Force after HS. I am in a selfish panic. Not my son.
I am a sucky, selfish, hypocrite... grateful for the sacrifice of others, yet not willing to have my son make that potential sacrifice.
Beautifully written and thought-provoking post.

Alexis AKA MOM said...

Just beautiful and so wonderful to post this amazing chance experience that will be with you forever.

What an experience to be part of his return to his beloved family.

hotpants™ said...

Beautiful post!

hotpants™ said...

Beautiful story!

♥ Braja said...

Well done, Jenny....

Shop Girl* said...

What a wonderful experience to have had... and here we spend Remembrance Day honoring past soldiers, but it's so important to remember there are still men fighting for freedom.

Thank you for sharing this!

The Absence of Alternatives said...

I am once again floored by the power of your narration. I agree with you: you don't have to agree with the war to honor the veterans.