This is a question that was asked of me during a book signing. I was surprised and taken back not by this question, but by the person who asked the question. It was a young woman, probably between the age of 15 and 20. With the fashions, make up, and internet plethora of information, I really couldn’t guess her age any closer.
She was with an older male, near my age, who had that distant stare I have seen in so many military combat veterans. We used to call it the “Thousand Yard Stare”. He was the person that had bought the book.
I always sign every book with the statement “Thank you for helping our needy veterans and their families!”, then sign my name and add the date. All the books I personally sign are numbered copies. He thanked me for my service, and then, at that very moment, the question was asked by the young woman.
The question seemed to me to be a strange mixture of innocence, antagonism, and distaste. I’m not sure that makes any sense, but that what I felt that time. I still am unable to describe it otherwise.
I just stared at her for about 10 seconds and then said “I have far too many visitors in my nightmares at night to count, so I can’t give you an answer.”
The gentleman that had purchased the book started to apologize, but I stopped him. I told him that her question was not rude, and that from her perspective, it was a reasonable and honest question.” Then I turned to the young woman and said “I’m not trying to avoid answering your question. I have given the best answer that I have. If more people had asked that type of question of the leaders of our country, then you wouldn’t have needed to ask your question.”
The man and young lady just stared at me for a few moments. He picked up his book, then took her hand and walked away.
I was left with a feeling that I had somehow failed the young woman because the answer I gave her was true, but still did not really answer her question. The truth is that I have no idea of how many people I have killed. No combat veteran, whether from World War I, World War II, Korea, Viet Nam, or any of the other wars and actions that have taken place since could answer that question with any more accuracy.
In combat, things happen so fast that you can seldom know exactly what happened. At the end, it is enough just to know that you are still alive. Nothing else matters at that time.
It is only after you are no longer involved in actual combat, that this question comes back to haunt almost every combat veteran.
When I was medically retired at the end of my military service, they hardly recognized or cared what I was feeling or thinking. When I retired they had no name that they used for my condition. Only much later, about 20 years later, the scientific and medical community finally came up with a description . . . Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
It is an impressive set of words that they came up with. But having a description doesn’t help. They still have no real answer or treatment to make it go away.
The only way you can save your children from getting this malady is to make the leaders of our country stop creating politically driven wars that they want to fight.
The United States of America has not been granted the right or the responsibility to police all the problems in the world.
It causes far too great a price for our young members of the military to pay just because some politician decided that it was time to go to war. When we finally leave the current “War Zones”, do you think that our leaders will really believe that they have changed the world? Why does their all knowing ego have to cause so much lasting damage and pain.
I’m not saying that there are not times when our only recourse is war. There are far too many historical events to prove this is true. But, if when we leave things will not have really changed, then why did we go?
“Inside the World of Mirrors – The Story of a Shadow Warrior” is not written because of pride, but because of pain. It is my hope that knowledge of the type of things I did in the “Service” of my country may make people hold our leadership to higher standards.
If only one politically driven war is avoided because American citizens do not allow it to happen, then I have done some small good.
Maybe when the time comes, as it will for all of us, to be judged for our actions and motives I will be able to have at least one mark on the good side of the ledger.
This is my silent prayer.