So nobody else has to
The man sat in the back row. When I asked: are there any veterans here? He and a few others raised their hands. After I spoke to the half-empty church, a crowd of people ran up to me to say thanks or to ask for my pictures. But the man just sat in the back staring at me. As I passed each pew, people caught me from behind to just say thanks.
The man just sat in the back, as if he were waiting for me to pass by when nobody else was around. From a distance, he looked old and a little dirty. He had a long, fluffy white beard that resembled Santa Claus. He wore an old leather jacket, jeans and a red-and-white checkered flannel shirt. There were smudges of dirt upon his wrinkled cheeks. But what caught my eye were the watermelon tear drops flowing from his bright blue eyes.
As I approached the back row to exit the building, the man stood up, walked toward me, put his arms around me and simply said, “I was in Berlin. It hurts doesn’t it?” I only said I’m sorry and thank you. He wiped the tears from his eyes and walked away bawling. My uncle said he’d never seen the man before and that he was a visitor from Texas. His daughter attended the church and heard a soldier would be giving a testimony.
Since a recent post, I’ve been talking to schools, universities, youth groups and churches about Iraq. My message is always the same… pray for the soldiers, good things are happening and never get reported, know that this war is just and that the people we fight do not represent Islam; they represent evil. Sometimes, I receive standing ovations. Other times, I have kids picking their noses, just waiting for the bell to ring. I get frustrated when people don’t pay attention. I have to hold back from saying… “excuse me. Am I boring you? Do you realize I am PR Man and I have a cape? Don’t make me suck you into a black hole.” But I don’t, I just give them the sniper stare. I run a slide show of 200 or so pictures, some of which show little kids smiling. Others depict the reality of combat. I entertain questions and this is where the fun begins. One kid asked me if I’d ever been shot at. I described the time an RPG landed near me but never exploded and the time bullets whizzed by my head, pinging off of metal. Another asked if I’d ever lost a friend. I replied more than I can count, but told them about T & Mitts and how both were expecting children. They asked about the Iraqi children and if they attend school. I answered, it’s not that easy. See, the terrorists have targeted schools we’ve built and many vagrants have kicked kids out of the classrooms to live in the buildings, but for the most part, kids are receiving more education now than under the Saddam regime simply because we have spent millions rebuilding and re-supplying dilapidated schools. I tell them about Samir and how he was the Arabic version of Chris Farley. When they learn of his baby and Samir’s unfortunate murder, tears fill the eyes of the girls while the boys just look dazed.
After one presentation, a person told me that it was great, but it was kind of depressing. I asked… well, what the hell do you think war is? It’s not something in a book or a movie; it’s real and real people live through it. They don’t pick the cause… they just fight it, so you can enjoy an education, the freedom of speech, the freedom of religion and enjoy that beautiful flag. For the most part, I’ve noticed that people don’t realize or care about what’s really going on in Iraq or the rest of the world. They just go about their daily lives not knowing how lucky they have it. They can’t fathom that right now there is a 22-year-old former all-state football player standing in a guard tower or on a patrol or behind a Howitzer not knowing if the next 30 seconds could be his last. Of course, not for one second do I throw all of America into this generality. The readers of this blog and the millions of military supporters and the fine folks at Oklahoma State are different… the kind emails and generous comments I’ve received in the last week about my nightmare and struggles to be normal again truly made me feel special. You people are so genuine and I can never thank you enough for the support you’ve given me and my fellow brethren.
Much like Berlin and World War II is still with the man who confronted me, I know Iraq will always be a part of me. I know his war was much different than mine, but we were both subjected to images that will forever follow us. It’s strange how just one year can define a lifetime.
Last night at my old church, somebody asked me why do soldiers do it. I said, “so nobody else has to.”