Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Another Entry in the PTS Diary

Recently, we lost a family friend. He succumbed to cancer among other ailments after an 8 month long battle. Gary Staffy was a fighter.

I didn't know him, at least directly. But he was the father of a close friend who is considered part of our little family. He was what can only be termed as a "step-grandfather" to my step-daughter. The relationship is complicated and difficult to describe, so we'll employ Occam's Razor and use that simplest term.

Gary's funeral was with military honors over Independence Day weekend. It wasn't full honors. But it did have the firing squad, TAPS, and the folding and presentation of the flag. Gary served, honorably, in the US Air Force, honorably discharged due to an injury that should have claimed his life.

In addition, I've finally gotten around to reading SEAL Sniper, CPO Chris Kyle's book American Sniper. So, my mind is on Iraq a bit these days.

Chris often claimed he wasn't a hero, just a lucky guy who did his job. That is an answer that the many heroes I have had the distinct honor to know often give when called "hero". I've given the answer myself.

I'm not a hero. I'm a guy who did a job. There were others who did far more heroic things than I did.

When my father-in-law visited in May, he dismissed those words as I spoke them. He was looking at my bronze stars at the time.

Though proud of the work I did to "earn" them, there are days I consider tossing them out. I wouldn't actually throw them away, mind you. I'd lock them in a little box somewhere out of sight. My father did the same with his medals from Vietnam. I remember the day I found the box. He really did not want to talk about them or what they meant. To me, though, they meant my father was a hero, and not just to me, but to the country. To this day, he will claim otherwise.

Certain times of year are hard for me. Certain days I feel melancholy. Then I see the calender and things click. The date usually ends up corresponding, plus or minus a day or two, with the death of a friend. Even if I am not directly conscious of the dates, it seems my subconscious works overtime to ensure I don't forget.

That's not a problem or a curse. It is a blessing. The pain of remembering is always preferable to leaving the fallen forgotten.

Independence Day usually brings its share of complications. The sounds of the fireworks and playful explosions tend to bring flashbacks. The smell of the ozone and chemicals in the air compounds the sensations. Then add in the smell of flesh burning on a grill. It's an onslaught of reminders.

Flashbacks are not what movies and other false depictions claim them to be. They are not hallucinations. There is no loss of reality or sanity. It is just a wave of sensations like deja-vu.

See, when in combat, a warrior develops a sort of hyper-sensitivity to certain stimuli. Along with it comes a hyper-awareness. If you watch your cat when it "catnaps" and you make a quick motion, that is what it is like. A warrior sort of sets up an "alarm system" to actively look for potential threats.

A flashback is when something in the current situation or moment brings that hyper-awareness from "passive mode" to "active mode". Sounds and smells tend to trigger them more than sights. Independence Day tends to be ripe with those sounds and smells, especially for those of us who lived through repeated rocket and mortar attacks.

Just because a warrior is experiencing a flashback doesn't mean they are going to freak-out. Usually, mine just make me a slight bit moody and on edge. Mostly, though, they drive me to seek a little peace and quiet away from other people so I can rationalize and calm down. It takes a whole 5-10 minutes, for me. In fact, it usually takes less. So let's debunk that false narrative once and for all, O.K.?

There are little things I do to remember some of my fallen brothers and sisters. They seem odd to outsiders. Tough.

There are things I won't talk about. Let them be.

Call me a masochist, but I watch movies and documentaries about "my wars". If they are relatively truthful and accurate, I get a little emotional,sometimes sad. It's normal and cathartic. Just let it be.

As stated, painful memories are better than the tragedy of forgetting.

The worst thing for me, though, is to look around and see so many people willing to throw away what so many fought hard, and even more lost their lives in defending. Politicians want to regulate and decide who is a "member of the press" and who isn't. They want to qualify the Bill of Rights into non-existence. People are unwilling to hold elected officials accountable. Worse, many are asking for politicians to give them more "free" stuff that other people earned (and soldiers fought and died so those people would be free to earn). High School students today who cannot recite the preamble to the US Constitution, much less tell a foreign tourist the history behind that document. History teachers who confuse the Declaration of Independence with the Gettysburg Address are held as "experts" in the areas of civics and US Government. Our kids are being told that they are born owed something instead of knowing they are born owing the gods for the gifts they already have: life, liberty, and the freedom to work and earn the rest (pursuit of happiness).

Average people believed in our culture of ideas. They stood up and said "send me". They defended those ideals of individual liberty, accountability, responsibility, life, and right to earn property. Those ideals are supported by the intrinsic right to the means to defend them. We call these people "Soldier", "Sailor", "Airman", "Marine", and "Hero". 

The pain of remembering them and what they fought for is far more preferable than forgetting them and losing our country.