Friday, May 16, 2008

Remembering

Peter, a fellow Ole working in youth ministry in Petrozavodsk, Russia, has a great post on the Russian celebration of Victory Day, roughly equivalent to our Memorial Day. His piece led me to reflect on what led me on the path to becoming a Soldier, a path very far removed from everything I had expected or imagined for myself. I suppose now's as good a moment as any to share the story.

There are all sorts of reasons I enlisted, of course. Such a major life choice doesn't spring from a single motivating factor. When the standard script of military smalltalk gets to "so what brought you into the Army?", I usually mention how the linguistic training I could get in the Army more specifically matched my aspirations than anything available in graduate school. But of course, having almost zero contact with the military sphere, I wouldn't have even learned about what training was available if I hadn't been looking into it. So why, during my senior year of college, with a defiantly impractical Classics degree within my reach, was I considering military service? The moment that first opened the door for me to consider military service was, in fact, lost to me for some time. I had completely forgotten about it. I spent my first year in the Army not exactly remembering what had led me to consider enlistment in the first place.

Then, sometime last year, I remembered. It was the fall of my senior year, while I was circumnavigating this beautiful and tragic world of ours, that I found myself at the battlefield of Al-Alamein on Egypt's Mediterranean coast. I'd been to war memorials before, and never really managed to internalize much of what I saw. This time, it was different. The North African campaign wasn't even a particularly brutal sideshow of WWII. It's celebrated as much as it is precisely because it featured the (comparatively) easy morality of soldiers fighting soldiers in a desert landscape devoid of "collateral damage". That said, when we visited the German mausoleum and the Commonwealth cemeteries, I was overwhelmed. The German monument includes a dedication to the truly unknown soldiers, those whose remains left no clue to their nationality. It is a tribute to the universality of patriotism, and of sacrifice. But it was in the Commonwealth cemetery, with its rows upon rows of simple headstones, where I was convicted. Each stone there bears a name, a rank, a date, and a relationship. I was saddened -- though not shocked -- to see the numerous stones marked "brother" and "son", over men who died at 18, 19, 20. What took my breath away, left me weeping quietly in the desert, were the stones marked "father". Too many young men with young families of their own lay dead on that desert plain. Too many young women, young mothers, received that terrible news. Too many children grew up with a medal and a photograph on the mantle in the place of a father. Yet England knew well that the price her young men paid -- not to mention their widows and children -- was the fair price of freedom in this dark world. It was on that desert plain, wandering between the gravestones, that I was convicted by the sacrifice of all those young fathers. They had so much more to lose than I, so many more depending on them, and they gave it all. Somewhere deep inside I asked myself if I could risk the same.

I left Alamein and promptly forgot all about duty and honor and sacrifice, for a time. I was still in college, after all. The example of the soldiers buried there had opened a door, however, one that never entirely closed again. And here I am.

4 comments:

Quantitative Metathesis said...

Thanks, Evan, for this post, and for your willingness to sacrifice your life for a freer world.

Melody said...

Thank you for your decision. This military mom is so proud of your mom's "little boy." People like you--compassionate, thoughtful-- give me hope for the future of our country.

Presbytera said...

Thank you for the willingness to serve our country and for the willingness to write about your thoughts on the subject. God bless you Evan.

AmusedMomma said...

You have an elegant way of writing and expressing your thoughts on this matter.

Your sacrifices for the freedom of people you don't even know, or some who don't care, is impressive.

The appreciation we have for you, and others serving with you, is way beyond "thanks."

Thank you, Evan.