So here we are at the beginning of the new year and a new semester. I hope everyone had a great holiday break. After a whole month off from school I’m sure everyone was eager to get back to class. I know I sure wasn’t. When that alarm went off Monday morning I was ready for the weekend already. But I got up none the less and since you’re reading this I guess you did too.
I usually spend the holidays with my family but this year was different, this year I spent the holidays with my other family, my platoon.
My dad is 88 years old. In case you’re doing the math, yes he is quite a bit older than me. In fact, he was already 60 years old when I was born. He was born in 1924 and served in Germany in WWII. I remember the day we first got internet at our house. He asked me what he should look up. I told him everything and everyone was on the internet and he could simply search for whatever he wanted to know. With all that information at his fingertips, and all the years that had passed, the first thing he looked for was the remaining members of his old platoon.
I left active duty a couple of years ago. My old platoon all went in their separate directions. Some went home to their families; others didn’t as years overseas had taken its toll on their marriages. Some went to college like myself; others fell through the cracks while battling substance abuse. Some are no longer with us. But all of us remain brothers.
It’s hard to explain to anybody who has never served. The connection we have is different. Our friendships were born of blood, sweat, tears, and despair and then forged in the fires of war. After not seeing many of them since leaving Iraq in 2010, we all picked up right where we left off, as if no time had passed at all.
Psychologists say that shared intense instances create strong emotional bonds. These intense moments can be anything; skydiving, a car wreck, a wild night on the town, the death of a loved one, any moment of heightened emotions, good or bad, will create an emotional bond with whoever shared that experience. War is an intense experience. Not one that lasts for just a moment or even hours or days or weeks but years. It’s not an intense moment but an intense way of life.
I’ve always considered my platoon family. Seeing them was the best Christmas present I could have ever hoped for. In many ways, it meant more to me than spending Christmas with my real family.
My dad was only able to find one member of his old platoon that day. They talked for a long time and afterword my dad didn’t say much for the rest of the day. I guess he was lost in thought. I found out later that he and his friend were the only members of his platoon left. I had heard many of his stories of his old platoon when I was growing up, the good and the bad. Learning that most of his old platoon was dead was probably a big shock. I can understand why he didn’t have much to say.
Last spring my dad found out that he had stage four cancer and was dying. He had battled cancer before and had beaten it, but this time he declined treatment. The doctors had given him five months to live and he said he would rather not spend his remaining time in a hospital bed sick from treatment. I went to visit him at his home in South Dakota. While there with the rest of my family he took me aside and gave me a photo album that I had never seen before. He told me not to say anything about it to the rest of the family and to look through it some night after I had gotten home.
One night I sat down and looked through that tattered old photo album and in that moment, I realized why he had wanted me to have it. My dad had nine children of which I was the only one who joined the military. He wanted me to have it because it would mean something to me that it wouldn’t to the others. It was his platoon. His pictures were the same as mine. Sure they were of different people in a different war and they were in black and white, but they were the same. They were pictures of tired, dirty, solders. They were posing holding light machine guns with belts of ammo wrapped around themselves; smoking cigars while sitting on cases of high explosives; filling sandbags; burning shit. They were the same pictures I had of my own platoon. They were pictures of his brothers.
My platoon, my brothers, were here for a week. Saying goodbye to them was hard. And coming home to an empty house afterward was kinda depressing. I sat there for a while thinking about Iraq and how terrible and awesome it was. If you were to ask any of us if we would do it again the answer would always be the same; yes. Despite all the bad things none of us would have changed anything.
Before I go, I would like to do something. I would like to introduce you to the craziest, most irrational, unpredictable, and indestructible group of guys that I know of,,,, my platoon.