He is spending Christmas with a bunch of other old soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines. He spends all his time with them now but it’s where he would want to be. He went to Vietnam. He came back but part of him never came back. It stayed with all the ones who didn’t come back, the ones who haunted him because he couldn’t help or save them.
And he never stopped being Gunny. He carried them with him. They visited him in his sleep. His grief wasn’t from going back to Vietnam every night. His grief was that he could not change one of their fates.
When push comes to shove on the battle field and you must fight, it isn’t Mom, apple pie, Freedom or any other crap that is over thousands of miles away, you fight for the man next to you. You fight for the man fighting next to you and sometimes it is simply to get your ass safe at base. Sometimes you fail. That’s the part that haunted him. The failures.
And no “Thank you for your service” cuts it. It cuts it about as well as someone who says “I’m sorry for your loss” while you are burying the person you love most in the world. Don’t get me wrong. The Thank You is so much better than what we did to Gunny and those men. I remember that. We should be eternally ashamed of our selfish self-righteous behaviour in the name of peace. Nothing we do or say can every make up for that and the only way we can make amends is making sure those who follow in their footsteps never have to deal with what we did to them.
Gunny took that step both there and in his civilian life. He worked as an EMT. There are people who have lives today who wouldn’t have if it hadn’t been for him. He never stopped doing and caring. He’s one of the ones who when the rest run screaming from something, runs toward it. He’s the first one I prayed to on 9/11 asking him to be there to help them across and comfort them because if he could he would be right there.
He taught me a lot. He taught me to be brave, to put your money where your mouth is, to really thank someone by stepping up instead of mouthing words.
Gunny taught me what a hero is. Damn, I miss him. Semper Fi Gunny.