Flag-draped coffins are the currency of a heroic payment.
An email circulates from time to time honoring the armed forces for having written a “blank check…to the United States of America for an amount up to, and including, their life.”
Most who serve return home alive, though.
Regardless of whether they are bandaged or not, men and women who have seen combat are wounded.
Brains have been rattled in the pressure cooker of battle, shaken by horror and crushed under sadness.
War continues to withdraw from them throughout life.
They are asked to be husbands and fathers, wives and mothers. They become businessmen and policemen, preachers and teachers. In the years beyond their call to duty, their contribution is woven into that of the country as a whole.
Their passing occurs quietly as a largely oblivious world is unmoved by the death of the assimilated, forgetting the sacrifices they made and the valor of survival.
Those who’ve died in foreign lands under heavy fire deserve their place in the pantheon of American grit and glory. Let us not forget those robbed of their innocence and forced to fit into a world unable to comprehend their experience.
My grandfather’s “blank check” taxed him for sixty-plus years.
He witnessed disturbing deaths.
He had a woman kiss his muddy boots for simply letting her have some food.
He spent years required to fire a rifle into his infinite respect for the dignity of every human life.
The memories brought nightmares and tears each time.
But you hardly would have known.
He helped raise four children and owned an electronics shop, all the while demonstrating tireless commitment to integrity and service. As his family grew to include grandchildren, he became a whole new person.
He began sharing wisdom like “eating green beans will put hair on your chest.”
He pioneered the simple fun of laying on the floor and throwing a Nerf ball between rotating fan blades.
He made sure to show each child how to do a headstand in the corner of the living room.
He boosted multiple youngsters onto the bathroom counter and ensured all faces were covered with some fresh lather, then made sure everyone–not just he–left with a “clean shave.”
Then, we lost the soldier we hardly knew.
The things he wished so long to forget–the violence, the suffering–disappeared into a thickening fog of dementia. The bloodshed and terror faded away, taking with them his sense of humor and vitality.
The effervescent man became a shuffling shadow.
I write this to remind everyone of the heroism of survival, the value in returning from an unspeakable time in a fearful place and creating a legacy grander than what you left with.
Honor these men and women for the entirety of their work, as their days in uniform are usually short and their civilian lives–where they make the largest difference–relatively long.
We must never forget because they might not remember.