Last night I watched “The Hurt Locker” with my husband. Today I sit with him to watch “The Pacific” on HBO. Two different wars and two different generations. But there are more similarities then there are differences. Is it that our wars are fought predominately by young men between the ages of 18 and 30? Is it a cultural similarity of americans that persists from generation to generation? Or is it something else? Is it some unseen warrior spirit that resides with in them?
Both movies illustrate effectively the reality of war for those of us who have never been. There are those who crack under the pressure, freeze, unable to act. There are those who become addicted to the rush of the danger. They may end up your most decorated soldiers, running into danger and saving the day. Then there is the guy who just wants to do his duty and go home at the end of the day. Neither coward nor “hero”. He is your average G.I. Joe. He does what must be done in the heat of battle, with honor and dignity. He watches friends die but does not falter. He carries out his orders ever moving forward. He knows the taste of fear, but acts in spite of it. They say that courage is feeling fear and moving forward anyway. Who are these average G.I. Joes?
They are your neighbors. They served their nation as young men and saw things that most of us have only seen in the safety of our living rooms or theatres. They lived and breathed it. They tasted the salt of a friends blood on their lips and moved forward. And they came home. They married and raised children. They are butchers, and real estate agents. They are great grandfathers and friends. They are the average guy next door.
Having watched this from the safety of my sofa, I could only imagine what it was like to live through it. Then they came home and lived out the “rest” of their lives. I think of my neighbor. Eighty something years old and a grandfather. A union butcher. A husband, and recipient of three purple hearts. It is hard to distinguish him from any other octogenarian on most days. But every once and a while he starts to talk about the war and you can see a change in his eyes. Memories more real then any movie could portray. The fear, the rush, the loss, all done in the name of duty and honor.
What separates him from you and I. Would I, if I found myself in a time and place like his respond the same? Would I be a coward, a “hero” or would I be your average joe? Part of me wishes for the chance to be tested in the fire and yet, another part of me thanks God I may never have to know. But I am humbly and deeply grateful to those who have served. Thank you.