I'm honored to be sharing an acre of cyberspace with Benjamin Busch at National Public Radio's All Things Considered today as we both reflect on Veterans Day and the stories soldiers tell. Busch, author of the beautifully-written memoir Dust to Dust, writes:
In the six years since I left the Marines, what always strikes me is a veteran's enduring attachment to their unit, their clear memory of places and comrades, the stunning drama of their missions or unique situational comedy of their labors. Most of these stories are never heard, because no one ever asks for them.You can hear Ben read his essay at NPR here.
We mention sacrifice on days like this, but sacrifice likely isn't the thing a veteran will recall. It will be the stories. It's these tales that make military experience comprehensible to those who never serve in this way. What if today — instead of thanking a veteran for their service and then passing by — you take a moment to ask them for a story? We've all got one to tell.
My story begins like this:
It's February 2005 and I am in a C-130 flying over Iraq, my scrotum shriveling at the thought of terrorist rocket launchers which, at that very moment, could be aimed directly at our fuselage.You read the rest of the essay here.
Between the soldiers on my left and right pinning me to my seat, the Kevlar helmet crushing my skull and the flak vest squeezing my ribs, I'm suffocating by slow degrees. I think, "I'm gonna die before I can even get to the war." Which would be a real shame because then I could never finish that novel I was already writing in my head.
I'm an enlisted soldier heading to Baghdad where for the next 10 months I will sit in a cubicle writing official Army press releases meant to reassure the rest of the world that, yes, U.S. forces were kicking terrorism's ass.
I shouldn't even be here. I'm the farthest thing from a soldier you could possibly imagine. I'm a writer, dammit! This Army gig was only supposed to be a steady-paying day job so I could spend my off-duty nights in my basement writing the Great American Novel.
The C-130 takes a sudden lurch forward. Somebody farts a noxious fart. It dissipates and in its place, I smell a hundred nervous underarms, then the comforting scent of peppermint gum coming from the wide-eyed soldier sitting next to me.
We look at each other. This is it. This is really it. We swallow hard knots in our throats. HolymotherofGod, we're doing it. We're going to war!