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January 22, 2005

Two Seeds

Lori Holman from Norman, Oklahoma is pulling double duty with two Marine sons. She recently sent this message written straight from her heart. If you can get through it without tears, you are made of stronger stuff than I.

Just a few days ago, I walked slowly in downtown Norman on an uncharacteristically warm winter day. That bright afternoon, the town's teens and collegiates were out in force; absorbing the sun's energy, enjoying the rare warmth. I smiled, scanning the crowd and trying not to think of my 46th birthday. I found myself drinking in the younger peoples' enthusiasm for the day and I steered away from thoughts of advancing age. I chided myself for feeling old and decrepit, and wryly realized I sstill have time left to enjoy. Besides, how can one think of life's approaching end while surrounded by so many young souls?

I rolled my eyes at my silliness and focused again on the young people laughing and having fun. Such young faces! Twinkling eyes, smiles flashing as quickly as Oklahoma summer lightning, faces radiant and happy. Youthful exuberance bubbles up from spirits freely riding the winds of hope. The faces of young America, I thought to myself - the future of our nation resting so easily in their strong hands. So much promise, so many dreams cradled in their arms, waiting only for the chance to run.

Our next generations' dreams for the future might be widely different but the enthusiasm with which they embrace those dreams seems universal. The faces are as different as are wildflowers in a meadow, yet their eyes shine with the same brightness of possibilities.

My thoughts turned to my own sons; two of them serving their country as United States Marines. My firstborn, just starting out as a newlywed, he and his young wife together again after his deployment to a war zone in Iraq. My middle son, newly engaged and so vibrant with life, his own deployment on the very near horizon. Their youngest brother, so intelligent and creative, still undecided on how he's going to leave his mark in life, but ever thankful of his brothers' contributions toward the freedom of his own future.

Less than one week later, I sit in front of my computer, tears slipping down my cheeks as I think on our next generations. I am contemplating two young lives in contrast, lives out of sync. Two young men on the edge of forever, ready to cultivate the fields of tomorrow with their best efforts. How each young spirit chooses to plant their seeds in the fields of tomorrow can be so greatly different. And oh, how differently their offerings do flower.

I'll call the first James. James is twenty-three. He is a bright young single college student, well-liked and enthusiastic about life. He grabs every golden opportunity America gives him. Not much thought is given to the inner workings of these opportunities, and James avails himself of his birthright to complain about his government and voice his criticism freely. James considers himself a patriotic American. He like so many proudly proclaim discontent with our country, and he never has to miss the chance to share those views. No problem with that, right? If you see something you don't like, isn't it a responsibility to say so?

Our second young American is named Steve. Steve is about the same age, married with a new young baby. He could have gone to college right out of high school, but felt a need to do more with his life first – to give back to the country he so deeply loves. He became what few Americans can ever dream of becoming - a United States Marine. He said goodbye his loved ones and deployed to Iraq.

Two men, two choices, each with the freedom to choose what path they can walk to make our world a better place.

Steve was critically wounded while in combat, suffering among other injuries a broken back and blindness. He saw his friends, his Brothers, maimed and die from the same roadside bomb that altered his life so drastically. Steve had times when he felt down, when he worried that he would be unable to lead the kind of life he and his young bride had planned so hopefully. But after talking and just being grateful that he was alive, they realized that no matter what this
turn of events brought on the horizon, they would face it bravely and together. He took great delight in doing simple things and was still proud of his service to his country. He told people, "I have seen everything I need to see. I saw my son being born, I saw my Drill Instructor smile at me when he said congratulations Marine. I saw a lot of sunsets in places that they talk about in the Bible. I saw a lot of my friends go home from over there, I saw a lot that didn't. I saw the Iwo monument in Washington. I saw how proud my dad was when I graduated boot camp. I'm satisfied with that. I don't hold a grudge or
anything like the doctors told my wife she should prepare for. I wish I could still be there obviously, but I feel like I have done a lot while I was there. I know I'm glad I didn't die there, and that when I do go I'll be able to say that I gave more to this country then I took from it. Thats all you can ask for in the end…I really am grateful for all the things I have. I missed alot while I was gone. I may never see my son smile, but I can still tell when he is happy. I love smelling his hair after (my wife) gives him a bath. Those are the kinds of things, along with your prayers, that get me through the day."

Back to James. He and his buddies often spend time in town, enjoying the sights and getting away from the "pressures" of college life. They decided to get a bite to eat. By chance, Steve and his wife were in the very same place. Steve and his wife had finally gotten the chance to go out to have dinner, something they hadn't been able to do since before Steve was injured. Their paths converged. Steve, using his walker to carefully navigate his way across the room, bumps into a chair. James and his friends think this is hilarious. They nudge each other and laugh, as James makes fun of the young man using a walker, and they mimic him bumping into objects.

I got a call last night from a close friend, a call I really didn't want to receive. Our Marine Corps Family has suffered yet another loss. Steve has died. One moment, our world had a hero – the next we were irrevocably poorer as a nation. When Steve passed on, his wife held one of his hands, his commanding officer the other. Nestled on his bed, close to his heart, was his little son.

My head bows and I begin to sob loudly. My tears rain down harder, and I long to be able to reach out and gather his sweet, brave young wife in my arms. I search for words to comfort her, to pass along some kind of decent tribute. What words can I possibly use that will tell their son that his daddy was among the best of men? Anything I try to say falls far short. I want so badly to be able to make things better, but there is nothing I can do to heal their pain. I know all too well that it could be my son this happens to, and I have cried with many others who are dealing with this kind of suffering and loss. This is our reality, and it is what our loved ones have chosen to risk. How it can be a matter of amusement and unconcern to any young American is something I cannot comprehend. God forbid that our society sinks once again into ingratitude, heartlessness and shameful treatment of our heroes, as happened in the bloody throes of Vietnam. I do not think we can stay sane as a country if our next generation sinks so low once again.

When Steve checked in online before his final surgery, he was immediately beseiged by his fellow Marines. His Brothers gathered him close, put their own bad memories on the back burner and proceeded to take care of him in the way only Devil Dogs can. They even teased that if they kidnapped him for a party, he wouldn't even have to be blindfolded. They closed ranks and took care of their own. Would James be able to count on such tight bonds from his homeboys if he needed them? I find myself doubting it. James probably wouldn't go out of his way for anyone else, either. But this Marine did, and thousands like him, so James and his friends wouldn't have to worry about fighting in their own hometown; so he could be free to make fun of the man who had given so much for him. That horrible meeting of those two young men
keeps nagging at me – and it epitomizes the difference between James and Steve. I think on one of our nation's young heroes struggling to comfort his weeping wife as he put his own embarrassment and fear aside. Steve's not here to grace our world as he used to, every chance he got. Yet good 'ol James and his clueless posse no doubt continue on, uncaring of the pain they inflicted on a young couple's heart, unmindful of the damage they've done to their own tarnished souls.

They have no idea what we've all just lost. I wonder if they'd be smart enough to care even if they knew?

Such young faces. The faces of young America, the future of our nation resting so easily in their strong hands. So much promise, so many dreams. How each young spirit chooses to plant their seeds in the fields of tomorrow can be so greatly different. And oh, how different their offerings do flower. What will spring forth from these seeds?

Will it be a waste of fertile ground sown with weeds of selfishness…or the hardy blossoms of freedom, gently and lovingly planted in hope for the next generation? With these Marine mother's eyes, I focus on the sons and daughters we have so lovingly guided on their path, knowing as surely as we know their good hearts, that our future is in good hands. Steve will always shine as the best kind of American to me. He was here for such a short time, but his accomplishments are as lasting as if he'd lived for a hundred years. There's more worth to be found in that one warrior's brief life, that one gentle man's loving sacrifice - than we ever can hope to see in the other's example; a
solitary, immature man's selfish, aimless journey. I can only pray that James' kind learns to be grateful to the extraordinary men and women who fight and die for them. If they don't, what kind of legacy do they hope to leave behind when their chance on this earth is past?

Steve won't see his son's face or play soccer with him as he grows up. But what he passed on to that little boy is more lasting and more precious than he would ever dream – a golden legacy of true love and courage, and a lifetime of freedom to grow into the kind of man his father was.

Two men, two seeds. I know which seed bears the better fruit.

For Toxic and Kelly, for Lt. and Renee; for Nance and Lance, for Colin and Kevin and for Cpl. Amaya; for Brenda and Eric, Merce, Evy, every Gold Star Mother - and for every mother who fears earning that banner…For all the men and women whose lives have touched ours so deeply before sacrificing so much in service of our country. We will always remember, we will always love you – and we will live to "pay it forward".


Posted by Deb at January 22, 2005 01:22 AM

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I am an Air Force reservist with one active duty son in the Navy and the other a Marine recruiter. This story brought tears to my eyes as I pull drill weekend and think of all the sons and daughters that have had the courage to walk through the recruiters door, make a decision and do what it takes every day to serve and protect James's right to be free. Steve will be guarding at the gates of heaven and his family can be proud of his decisions and actions. I wonder if James's mother will do the same.

Posted by: Air Force Member at January 22, 2005 01:34 PM

This testament demonstrates the growing rift between the military and the civilian population. I cannot speak on behalf of my own university, however, from my daily observations it is clear that (in my opinion) many, perhaps most, college students are not concerned with the Iraq campaign. Accoridng to the "Alligator" an unofficial newspaper covering events at the University of Florida, an October article reported, to paraphrase: "Most UF students do not suffer anxiety from worries about the war in Iraq." The article continued to state that most UF kids do not know anybody serving in Iraq. When I am on the bus going to school, I hear kids talking about their friends, parties, or where they plan to visit over the break. In a history class, I approached the professor after class to talk about the Iraq war but he had nothing to say--perhaps the topic is too touchy right now, I don't know.

Now, I have a complex situation, but I have tried to join the Marines several times. First, they had this problem with my GED. So, I went to college. Then, they had this problem with my marriage: to make a long story short, I took off with my wife when I was nineteen and she was fifteen. We have been together since '98. She is twenty-three now and I am twenty-seven. We have no children and are both in school. The early days of our relationship was very difficult as the State drained our money and threatened me with prison. I want it to be understood that I feel no animosity toward my state or nation because of that. In fact, at my age now I can see why the state did what they did. But, my wife and I are an exception. Don't you marines prefer the exceptions? But we are okay now, man and wife and very happy. I am over it, but the Marines want to make it an issue. I believe that the Marines should realize that I was able to wage a campaign and win. I won. A true warrior would see that.

I think the problem is that the college kids know that there is nothing at stake for them. They don't have to worry about a draft like the students during Vietnam. Also, many of the students seem to understand that the military is exploitative. Most of these kids don't want to end up butchered chattel. I have had some conversations with some who contend that there is no profit for military service. I see vets every week on the off-ramps with their "Will Work for Food" signs. Look at the VA. The VA is a nightmarish mess of understaffed, insensitive, and overwhelmed people. I had a buddy who went to the VA for food poisoning. He could barely walk, but the nurses made him collect his own stool samples and walk it himself to the lab. My wife works at a hospital where that does not happen--ever. The VA told my friend that he wouldn't have to pay, but somehow he got stuck with a $900 medical bill.

The military itself doesn't take the measures needed to equip its own men. From experienced veterans I have discovered that this is because the people in charge are remote from war, and they want to cut off the choicest cuts for themselves. They are not concerned with the grunt. This has been described in an ancient text called the "Vedas." There is a thing called 'military-by-thread-only.' This means that those in charge of the foot soldier are not represented by sincere leaders. I pray that this is less so in the Marines.

All that is happening today has been purported by sages for ages.

But! And I promise to end this sermon soon--There is hope! Some adjustment is necessary in order to mend the rift between the military and civilian society. I will always espouse my conscript prisoner army, an army that I shall seek to lead into war. I know that with a conscript prisoner army that I will not be able to rely on the resources of the volunteer military, but I have thought long and hard about the logistics of the operations needed to be undertaken for the preservation of the United States. After all, I was born here, and more importantly, those that I love were born here: my mother, my wife, my few friends, my cat and my dog!!! An attack against this nation is an attack against me. Why can't the Marines see that?

I know! Maybe if I tell the recruiter that I want money for college! Then will I get to be a Marine?! Is it that I should pretend that there are no serious issues in this world and instead talk about the latest in sports only to turn my head outside the window and agree with the recruiter when he says, "Ooh! I gots to get me some of that tail!" AND I QUOTE!

If you are serious--then be serious. If you are not, then don't condemn those who decry you.

I want to be a Marine, but there are too many ephemeral issues blocking me. Why don't we just tell the terrorists that they aren't qualified to fight against us because they don't have highschool diplomas and they have records! Then, the terrorists will realize that the 'tier one graduates' have licked them and they will all just go home! Right?!!!

Oh, let's just take those diplomas and tape them to our chests instead of body armor. In fact, take all those diplomas and tape them to the Humvees. You are so obsessed with your diplomas that they must hold magical powers, of course!

I am deeply disgusted by the way those college kids treated that blind Marine. I believe that even blind, that man could see much more than those spoiled rotten infants that taunted him. However, I am convinced that there are today in your military services men with functional eyes that are so dangerously blind that they are more of a danger to you than the sworn enemy.

How 'bout a waiver? How 'bout making me a Marine?
How 'bout getting real and serious and concerned?
Or should we all just pretend and talk?


Posted by: Mattson at January 22, 2005 03:44 PM

To Lori - the mom who posted -
You might want to take a look at grunt.com as your Steve/Toxic story is now being reported all as a major scam.

Posted by: JOANN at January 23, 2005 11:35 AM

Thank you for sharing your thoughts and helping us remember that this situation, and many like it, are happening every day. We forget about the more than 10,000 injured soldiers. Sure, there are going to be insensitive jerks -- but, I would hope they are in the minority. This is a challenge to each of us to think of how we can provide training, help, and support -- without waiting around for the VA or the government !! -- to help our marines and their families. What can we do? Each of us has opportunities. As the mother of a young Marine, this story hit hard.

Posted by: susan at January 23, 2005 03:09 PM

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