Dateline: Lake Geneva, May 26, 2019

Living with the real deal. If you are married to a combat veteran then you are living a life almost no one else can understand. If you have stuck it out, I mean. The real combat Marine, or any other serviceman, is up late in the night waiting for an enemy that is never going to come and lying about that fact. You are married to a guy who drinks to forget his experience, not repeat it. He seeks, each time, to change what really happened and to make it more acceptable to his own moral code of today. Back then his code was formed by fear and the animal instinct to survive. He may have sought other women or was just a total loser, anything rather than admit that he is so weak as to agonize about the men he served with and lost, about the limbs and body parts he’s still emotionally missing, although the physical accommodation has long been long ago made. You remain married to a man who loves you with an intensity he cannot describe because you are here and are still sticking it out. You are living with a man who is stirred by the Marine Corps Hymn, the Star-Spangled Banner and stands for each while it is being played, but does not understand why he is standing, or why tears form in his eyes, and how he knows that nobody he has around him can possibly understand. You are living still with a man that no longer fears for himself what he is, and is not, thinking. He is up at night because he fears for you. He fears for everyone else because, for him, death for him is simply a bill collector long put off and who can be easily accepted in the night.

If you live with one of these guys then you are truly blessed and cursed at the same time. In three hours, or so, it will be Memorial Day. I will go out there and drive through town but I won’t stop. I won’t look for acceptance or thanks for my service. I am just so glad it is all here and that I really did have something to do with making that possible. I go to bed this night, probably at three or four a.m. with the thought that ‘you are welcome’ comes to mind. Keep on doing your part to do what has to be done. I will be here in the night, just in case you still need me.

That’s the real deal, a phrase I used to describe what it is like to be with one of these veterans. Memorial Day comes and goes, which is about the neatest thing about it. It came and went, and we all get to go back to doing the things that Americans do on a regular basis. There is no sensitivity to sounds of distant artillery over the horizon. There is no fear of foreign aircraft passing overhead. I and so many other veterans paid the price so you would not experience that kind of visceral fear.   Only one percent of the public will ever serve in the military. That fact is obvious in how the public generally treats those who have served. Presidents who have served in the military give you a good idea of how the public considers military service. Clinton, who admitted he would not serve in Vietnam, won his election against a vet who’d served. Bush Jr. did the same thing and won. The current president is proud to have not served and declares, incidentally, that those who do serve are losers.

Thank God for the losers. Those of us who’ve gone, been hurt or killed, did it for you. We don’t need to be rewarded when we come home. We have have come to expect that most of those who did not serve are a bit resentful of the attention we might receive. We went there for you. We did what we thought you needed us to do. We also accept the simple fact that you will never truly understand what is is that we did.

Memorial Day came and went with little effect. There were displays of flags, some farm and fire equipment paraded up and down streets, and an attitude of good cheer. Those of us still alive must thank you for the support. You will not, however, be with us when we are alone later this night, still defending you from an enemy you no longer have. It is still nice to hear the speeches, see the waving flag and enjoy the smiling public on this Memorial Day.

~~James Strauss




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