Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Eleventh Hour of the Eleventh Day...

In my classroom, I sit toward the front, flanked by students on opposite sides of the room. Their thumbs move in a mindless text message symphony, waiting for class to start. Their hair and clothes are impeccable. As the instructor walks in and greets us, the two students don't look up to say hello. They instead respond with a deafening click-click-click-click. I almost feel like apologizing for them.

Are these the people I chose to surround myself with?

Every day that goes by is a day apart from the men of second platoon. I have replaced my battlefield peers with classrooms full of students that don't know the stories or even the names of each other. I haven't tried to make friends. Why bother? My friends are not in Austin. They're in Chicago, Brooklyn, Green Bay, San Diego. They're everywhere except here, carving out their own destinies. Our shared past becomes more of a distant memory as time goes on. In a month, we will have spent the same amount of time home as we did in combat. The last fifteen months have flown by like a fading dream. At least in war, time moved impossibly slow. You could really squeeze every minute out of a day.

Whether at work, school or home, I cannot go ten minutes without thinking of the men I came home with, or the men we brought back home. Like I've said before, every day is Memorial Day. Every day is Veterans Day. My entire being is seared by the tragedy and triumph of war, an invisible mark I wear at every waking moment. My life will be spent trying to sort out what happened out there in the desert, but today is a reflection on the men I served with, both living and dead. It's to pay respect to the uniform that millions of Americans have worn and will wear. When I'm in class and I inevitably begin to space out, I'll be thinking of Chevy and Jesse, their lives gone too soon. I'll be thinking of playing craps on the floor and poker on the table. I'll remember a time when stepping ankle deep into septic waste was barely the worst part of a day, and that first sip of cold water was always the best.

Ever seen college kids moon an attack helicopter? Didn't think so

These memories rushing back will not take place in a dimly lit bar outside Ft. Lewis or on a sweltering rooftop deep inside Diyala Province. They'll be within the confines of my own mind, tucked away in a classroom full of delicate, protected students that tend to forget we're still at war, that men are still not coming back home with their limbs and their lives intact. Veterans Day is not just for us, it's for everyone to remember, lest we forget the cost of war. Today I'll be thinking not just of the men I served with, but my family as well. My grandpa in the Korean War, my uncle in Vietnam and my father off the coast of Beirut and Grenada will all be on my mind.

If you're a veteran or a family member of one, please leave a comment telling a favorite story of yours.



Anonymous said...

Greetings from Finland.

I often reminiscen my grandad, he fought in WW2 (The Winter War and Continuation War) in Finland. Dont ever forget your veterans and those who lost their lives over there!


Arli said...

Thinking of you today, Veteran's Day. I wish I were as eloquent as you are, but I'm not...so I'll just say you're not forgotten...that I am deeply grateful for your service and feel those sentiments every day, not just today. If I were in your class and knew that you had been to Iraq, what would you want me to ask/say to you? Some of us just don't know how to do this, but it isn't because we don't care. We do. Thank you for CHOOSING to serve. Keep writing.

Kevin Gooding said...

My father served in the Navy during the Korean War and as he is getting on in years, I wanted to get the stories he told when I was a kid recorded somehow. So, last winter when my wife, my kids, and I were visiting, my son and I sat down and plugged a microphone into the computer and just tossed out a few questions and let Dad go with it. He told his stories of being stationed on Midway Island, of being in charge of the driving the admiral's barge whenever the admiral was aboard ship, of cleaning the teak wood decks with holystones, of repairing one of the propeller shafts on a sub while at sea (he was on a sub tender). We now have those stories and I can burn them onto a CD and give a copy to my siblings and my parents. I encourage those who have loved ones who served and are getting on in years, get their stories recorded somehow.

Unknown said...

My favorite story happened on Sept. 12, 2007 when you and your comrades marched into the gym at Ft. Lewis, marking your return home from your long tour in Iraq. My heart was bursting as I thought at first, "It's finally, really over." But it was merely an ending to a chapter, not to the story, with many more waiting to be written. My joy at your return and witnessing your first glimpse of Lauren was soon tempered when I was introduced to Sonia Williams and baby Amaya. Their husband and father, Jesse Williams, had returned home some five months earlier to be laid to rest:


Sonia's and Amaya's Iraq chapter had ended and their next had begun, as had the chapter belonging to Brian Chevalier's parents and baby daughter. Your own story has by now flipped past another couple of chapters and is now in the midst of your life as a student. Who knows what the next chapters will bring? We can only wait to learn what all our futures hold.

As we pause to remember and honor all veterans on what was originally called Armistice Day, the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month that was meant to mark the conclusion of The War To End All Wars, please remember that we have been given precious time that was denied to Jesse and Chevy and countless others. And the vast majority of us don't have the hole in our lives left by having served one or more tours of duty. You can best honor the living veterans and serve the memories of the fallen by not squandering your time, by trying to be a better person, a more loving spouse, brother, sister, son, daughter, boyfriend or girlfriend, or even by just being a better friend to the people you know or meet. And on this day or any other day, if you see a veteran wearing a hat or sporting a bumper sticker or license plate that identifies them as such, please go up to them, shake their hand and say a simple, "Thank you."


U.S. Navy 1982-1994

David M said...

The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post - From the Front: 11/11/2008 - News and Personal dispatches from the front and the home front.

Unknown said...

On November 11, 1990 my unit in Nuernberg, Germany was put on alert for Desert Shield.

BTW, I'm in the Austin area. Drop me a line if you're interested.

This email address will get to me:

SFC, Ret

Anonymous said...

Alex, I have been reading you for some time now. I just saw something I think you may appreciate:
This poem was written by Stephanos, a Flag Sergeant (equivelant to a First Sergeant by today's ranking) in the service of Alexander in Afghanistan. It is inscribed on a stone stele by a mass grave of Macedonian soldiers who had recently been killed by Bactrian raiders. It still stands today.

In the company of soldiers
I have no need to explain myself
In the company of soldiers
everybody understands.

In the company of soldiers,
I don't have to pretend to be the person I'm not
Or strike that pose, however well-intended, that is expected
by those who have not known me under arms.

In the company of soldiers all my crimes are forgiven
I am safe
I am known
I am home
In the company of soldiers.

327 B.C.E.

Sarah Deere

Nixon said...

Don't worry, Alex, the bozos and their "click-click-click" are usually gone from college in the first couple of years, as they realize it's not just about fun and games. I hope that you find an interesting group of people during your studies. Don't give up on them just yet.

Anonymous said...

I remember pulling overnight duty in a commo shelter sited on a wintry and windswept South Korean hilltop back in the mid-80s. There was never much to do on watch, but you had to stay awake and alert in case any adjustments were needed, in case another commo site went down or if signal strength or voltage dropped. Or if your generator died. That would suck. Or if the North Koreans came screaming over the border. That would suck even worse.

While on duty, some guys read Bibles, some other guys read field manuals, other guys read novels, and still other guys did crosswords or word search puzzles. There's not a lot going on in rural South Korea in the middle of the night, so you have to occupy your mind with whatever you've got. If you had nothing, you'd beg, borrow or steal an FM, a novel or a puzzle book, or else be out of your skull with boredom.

Someone else must have been bored too, because suddenly, over the order wire came Steely Dan's "FM." This was long before MP3 players even existed, so someone either jury-rigged a wiring harness to jack a Walkman into their net, or else they had to key the mike and hold it up to a headset or speakers.

"FM" is a pretty long song. And they played the whole thing. The colonel was screaming mad when he heard about it, but strangely enough, nobody had any clue who was responsible for tying up the order wire with some classic AOR tunez.

Anonymous said...


I should stop by more often.

I've somehow lost touch will all but three of my fellow soldiers from my fortunate time in service (AD 94-98, NG 98-01).

I was a Near East Studies Major at the U of WA though and bumped into a Marine. It was good to associate with an adult who had similar experiences.

Thank you to all who serve and all who served, but particularly those who didn't have my good fortune of only peace time deployments.

Victor said...

I remember when we were in Mosul and you kept having to go up and down to the same roof over and over when 2-2 broke down. You were pulling overwatch. When you got up to the roof I could hear you just let out a "FUCK!!!!". That was pretty good. That's when I took you picture from the hatch down below. It was pretty funny.

MJ Athens said...

42 years ago Monday I turned 17 and, at the behest of the judge, I got on the train for Ft Campbell Ky. 2 years and 10 months later I got a 30 day early out to attend the University of Illinois and had ten days between the Nam and Urbana. Stopped in Frisco, bought 100 hits of organic mescaline and went to college. Never got spit on, inf fact the anti-war students I met then are my friends to this day. You know who fucked with us? The rah-rah right-wingers who though Nam vets were pussies because of the way the morons in Washington, including the Pentagon, decided to fight that dumb ass war. Big lesson? Fuck it and drive on. The students you are around can possibly understand what you and your buddies have been through but don't blame them. These fuckers could have asked for sacrifice but instead they asked people to shop and shafted the people who stepped up. It's the same old song but you have the ability to transcend it.

MJ Athens said...

Hey signalman, I may have sat on that same hill, just South of Munsani, at the base of Charlie Block in the winter of 67!

MJ Athens said...

Go tell the Spartans, stranger passing by,
that here obedient to their laws we lie.

GP said...

Thank you for your service. I come from a long line of military family members and I remember all of them on this day. It's especially difficult since I lost my father 4 years ago. Your blog meant a lot to me and I'm sure a lot of other people.

CD said...

My father passed away October 2005 He was in the Navy, WWII. Two uncle was Army, another one was Air Force. My brother was Marines, Vietnam. The year before my Dad died, he told me about being on leave in Hawaii during the War, and meeting up with his brother there, on leave at the same time. It was one of the few times he talked about it. Whether you know it or not, the stories you tell and the way you tell them are valuable links for those of us who never served in the armed forces, but have family members/friends who did, and who we don't want to push into talking about things before they're ready. So keep writing, Dude. And welcome back home.

Anonymous said...

Well, most of my favorites involve mostly the same guys as your stories, so here's one from my grandfather. I hope it's a war story from a war we'll never have.

I was working in my grandfather's garden with my brother and father many years ago. Grandpa stops for a moment, leans against his shovel, wipes the sweat from his brow and looks up at the sun.

"Did I ever tell you what a mushroom cloud looks like?"

My brother and I check my father's expression: surprise. Guess Grandpa never did mention that before.

He explains that after World War II, he was assigned to the US Navy H-bomb tests at Bikini Atoll. He stood watch on a ship that moored 35 miles from the epicenter. He left several men on deck with sunglasses and tin foil to cover the essentials, and waited below to record what the men on deck reported: Hot. Bright. Breezy. A bit atomic.

I could tell that my brother and I were thinking the same thing: if Grandpa was watching nuclear weapons detonate in '46 and Dad was born in '47...

Best wishes to you on Armistice Day.

Jennifer Chronicles (jenx67.com) said...

A blogger I like, Latchkey Man, sent me here. I've visted before. You are a great writer. I read every word and will read them again.

My father is an atomic veteran. If you get this comment tonight, you might want to visit my blog to see the certificate the Atomic Energy Commission gave him. Some sailors received reparations for their exposure to radition during the atomic tests, but not my dad. Still, like those who received reparations, he has Alzheimer's and Pick's Disease. Veterans give so much - on the battle field, their lives; and off - the damage continues to take its toll.

Wek said...

In the early 80's, when I was about 10 years old, my father received a phone call from a gentleman that claimed to know him from 1966 in Vietnam. My father didn't recognize his name, but he always keeps his door open for fellow Paratroopers (including those now 40 years his junior).

When the man came over I sat at the top of the stairs curiously eavesdropping in on their conversation. The man had also been in the 101st, but in a different unit. A unit that was rescued by my father's.

They rehashed the story- the man's unit had been pinned down for over a day. They were low on ammo, out of water, and all had been at least wounded (many were killed). My father's unit broke thru to help them and eventually cleared out enough of the NVA to get a helicopter in.

Years later, since I never forgot about what I heard, I asked my Dad some specifics of this day. He said it was completely "F-ed up". Unexploded handgrenades from the NVA were everywhere and guys were screaming for hours since the doc had run out of morphine.

So why was this man my father didn't personally remember in my parent's home? He had tracked down every living member of my father's unit and had been driving around the country to personally thank everyone that rescued him and his comrades.

Brandon Friedman said...

I don't think my guys ever mooned an Apache. But they did spend a night betting each other to run through a bonfire in Pakistan. Nobody died.

Great piece.

MezzoCO said...

My grandfather was an Army captain and served in WWII, Korea & Vietnam. He died when I was about 4 years old, so I never got to know much about him or his story. In fact, I have only a couple distinct memories of him at all. But I always think about him on Veterans Day, and send a prayer of thanksgiving up to him.

And to you, as well: thank you for your service and your sacrifices.

Anonymous said...

I'm in the Foreign Service and am embedded with MNF-I. It's stories like yours that inspired me to fight the bureaucracy so I could volunteer. Thank you for your service and for sharing your thoughts - along with a great photo!

Anonymous said...

I have spent a lot of time with WWII and Korean vets from my dad's battalion; my second book about them will come out by year end. At a reunion I asked a crusty old guy how he reacted when he got news the war was over. (These guys had been in Europe for 25 months and were certain they were slated to invade Japan.) He said there was a lot of jumping and shouting, but mostly the days went on like they had. At the reunion a year later, he took me aside on the first night. He said he had been thinking about me all year, because I had asked him a question and he didn't like the answer he gave me. He went on to say that he did a little jumping and shouting, too but in the evening he found himself sitting on the steps of a house doing nothing, and suddenly he began to cry. His lieutenant (a good, respected guy) stopped by and said "Something get to you, Hawver?" and my friend answered "just the word 'home' Lieutentant. Just the word 'home.'" A couple of years later Hawver told me he felt responsible for the deaths of two men because he gave them permission to bed down on a terrace that was a little more exposed than he liked. A mortar hit some women doing laundry, they ran to help, and the next round got both of them. His guilt made him extra cautious, and a few months later he made his squad dig in when rest of the platoon didn't. They took shells right in their position that night, and he know some of them would have been killed if they hadn't been in holes. His family didn't know these things. He was honest with me, a non-veteran, because I took the time to understand as best I could even though I knew I would fall short. His trust was one of the great rewards of my life. Later I gave him a WWII-era DI crest as a gift. When his wife told me he had been buried with it on his lapel, it was my turn to cry.

priya said...

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Timmey001 said...

My family. A member in every conflict in America's history. God Bless you guys! My brother is deployed currently and it is a blessing to look forward to my final signature on my final enlistment document. Im at school, no one seemed aware of what day it was. When I was in my military physical fitness class, Major W. asked if anyone knew what day it was. No reply. I told everyone that yesterday was the day we should know and celebrate.

I was disgusted that school wasn't canceled. I was sick that no one knew or could stand and declare their pride in OUR men and women serving us 48/7!

MJ Athens said...

I just ordered Mr Eldridge's and when the Dude writes his I'll be ordering it too!

13 Stoploss said...

13 Stoploss: The Flying Squirrel, 120 Swinging Dicks, and some required reading... (Al Qa'Qaa Stores, outside Karbala, Iraq - April 2003)


Demeur said...

There is so much and so many of our guys who won't be remembered unless there are writers like yourself to document what happened. I can't give you a Congressional metal for your service or writing but you have been nominated for the 2008 Weblog Award. So I encourage all those who come here to pop over and vote for Army of Dude as best military blog.


Anonymous said...

I remember pulling a lot of guard shifts with you, man! Listening to your mp3 player. You had one ear bud in and I had the other rockin out to The Killers. Sittin on a rooftop in Kahtoon at 2am lookin through a hole in the wall I liked to call 'The Glory Hole'. You could hear explosions and apaches doing gun runs, but it was also so relaxing just chillin watchin and hearing the 'show' they were putting on. Thats one of the things that sticks out in my mind.

Anonymous said...


As a former Air Force PAO, I didn't face any real combat, though dealing with the likes of NBC's Brian Williams back in the days before he made it up to NBC Nightly News was sometimes a battle. This story is one that I'll never forget.

Anonymous said...

Almost forgot: My Father's War Stories from World War II are worth anyone's time, especially on Veterans Day and Memorial Day. Thanks for your service!

Anonymous said...

I can't really say what my favorite story of my brother's is. He has a lot of them. lol. Probably one from the Euro trip. That had to be fun.

I try to imagine how you guys feel spending so much time with each other and then moving to completly different areas, but I can't. I miss my friends enough, and I'm just a few hours away.

Anyway, its a little late, but thanks for bearing the burden you do.

Unknown said...

I think my story of mooning beats yours. We were fitting the future HQ of the Iraqi Air Force with Cables. It was nothing more than a bunch of trailers outside an intelligence compound that used to be one of the small palaces of one of Saddam's daughters on Victory. I had earned the nickname "Man-Beast" for various reasons and a lot of people in my company thought it was because I had a tail, like something with that guy from Shallow Hal, or like a smurf tail or something. One guy took it seriously and offered me 4 bucks if he could see my tail. He forked out the cash and I mooned him. He was shocked, but he started telling everybody "I just saw Capps's tail! It changed everything!". He convinced other people. The next guy I showed a few minutes later screamed like a little girl and a lot of people heard it. Next came 2 people at once, a small girl who wasn't especially attractive (even after months and months in Iraq), and a guy we thought was Mr. don't ask don't tell. They gave me 8 bucks, I dropped my pants, and no screaming or any kind of shock, Mr. don't ask don't tell had a smile but a puzzled expression as well as if he was about to say "So where is the tail?" Both of them walked away with smiles on their faces though and I felt a bit dirty after that. It continued though, all the way back to Kuwait while we were coming home. I must have made over $50 total "showing people my tail".


Anonymous said...

Great piece of writing! I love your comments about the "click-click-click" generation. It's absolutely scary knowing we will some day be forced to depend upon them. I'm glad my life is already three quarters over.

My uncle was in the Navy during WWII. He was on a submarine in Pearl Harbor the day it was bombed. He survived. He was bombed once again after that while on a submarine at sea. His best friend was killed. He suffered horribly from PTSD when he returned home, but in those days there was no help.

Anonymous said...

I have been back from my second deployment for over a year and a half. The dreams do not stop. I was really considering my options when I spoke to a a patient well into his 80s. He asked me if I had nightmares about Iraq, and I told him I did. I will never forget what he said. "Don't worry about it, I still spend at least one night a month on Iwo Jima and it ain't killed me yet". I think about him and realize he has lived with this crap for over 60 years. Now when I wake up in the middle of the night I think about that marine and figure we belong to a very old club.

Chack said...

The frustration will fade. Find another outlet...I can't recommend rugby enough.
We got a new guy 3 months into our tour and he was the most straight-laced, gullible kid ever. We told him that I was trained in sizing people for body bags and that he had to climb in so I could see if he was a medium. He slid in and 4 of us picked him up...he didn't realize it was a joke until my platoon sergeant came out and snapped a picture, which we threatened to email to the kid's fiance.

Queen of the Universe said...

Thank you for such a great piece. In my last campaign, I tried hard to make it Veterans Day Every Day. I never thought back then it would be this long before we even had talk of a withdrawal. It's sad. I only hope that America learns this time.

Andi said...

Wow! I guess I will be the 38th. I married a Marine. I was always raised to respect military service, to say thank you, and to be appreciative of those who did all to protect everything I hold dear. But until those uniforms were hanging in MY closet next to my clothes, I could not grasp it. I don't think I do even now. I am in awe of his service, as I am of yours and those who served along with you, with him.
Thank you.

Big Griz said...

Dad passed away three months ago and had the Local legion post along with two active duty Army recruiters doing the honors. Dad served twice, Army Air Corps during WW2 and Air Force during Korea. Do you think Stop Loss is a new experience?? When the WW2 ended he got out early and went home to marriage work and family. Yes he signed the get out documents and 6 years later he got the letter. Your service is required again. Three months later he was on a Air Base in Japan supplying the troops in Korea. Never heard him complain! Army & Air Force was good to him. Got him fed and out of the west Tennessee farm life. Bless all of the veterans who made this nation the freedom nation.

Anonymous said...

I may be late for all this, but my husband is a Marine and OIF Veter and I love hearing him and his buddies tell stories of all the goofy things they did in Iraq. Egg decorating/hunting on Easter, my husband's Platoon Sgt. serenading him, while NAKED, with song when he was a bit down, or all the lizards they kept as pets in plastic bottles (supposedily one exploded after being taken from the a/c to the heat outside while his bottle was closed to tightly).

There are many, many more stories and conversations that make him smile when we speak of his time overseas and these are the stories I'm glad he talks about.

I've recently enlisted in the Air National Guard and will possibly deploy to Afghanistan late next year. And I only hope I have funny and goofy stories like his to come home and share.

-Kate Sharpe, MI, USA

DeLaina Craft said...

well it's not a story about when my brother in law was overseas, but its great enough. Right before my brother-in-law left for Iraq for the second time, he spent alot of time with his little brother(my husband) and I. I think he was worried about my husband, because he's deploying for the first time here soon. So we stole their sister's golf cart and were just being drunk and stupid, when we decided to get as much people as we could fit on this golf cart with it still having the ability to accelerate. From there, it was a game of last man on the golf cart(except me, I was the valued driver). THEN, it was a game of Jonathan or Trey(being which one could kick the other one off while moving). So with about 7 people on this golf cart, Jonathan and Trey are beating the shit out of each other. Jonathan swings in from the side and takes the drivers spot while Trey's still holding on to the other side. Well we drive for a bit and pick up what little speed we could, when Jonathan spots a young, growing tree(still thin and small enough to maneuver around) I'm sure what you can guess what's next- Jonathan rams Trey into that tree and wins the game while Trey is in the fetal position by the tree alternating between screaming "My nuts!", "Shit, my eye!" I didn't want to laugh. Or I didn't think I did, but we were all in tears. And after Trey could get up he was laughing too. No matter how much time passes, or whatever may happen, I will never forget that night. Trey wouldn't let me anyway.