Saturday, January 31, 2015

Grandma's House

One week each summer from the age of six until I was ten, I spent a week at my grandma's. She seemed so far away, a whole hour back in Deer River. She lived on Hanson Lake in the house her first husband had built. My sister got a week also, so we each got a two week break from each other.
The first night was always awkward. Grandma had fewer rules than I had at home but I was always tentative and a little afraid. I slept in an upstairs room and it was strange. The smell was comforting, but different and after living in a trailer, even a small house seemed large when it had an upstairs and a basement.
It might have been the different noises or because Amber wasn't there guard me until I slept, but that first bedtime was always hard. There were Peanuts books by Charles Shultz in the room and while I barely remembered the rest of the surroundings, those books were comforting.
The next morning there were always Leo's pancakes. Leo was my grandpa, but we called him Leo. Later, I understood that he was my Grandma's second husband and he never wanted to be seen as trying to take Grandpa's place. I never met my Maternal or Paternal grandfathers, both died before I was born.
Leo was grandpa enough that I never felt like I missed anything. His pancakes were delicious and unlike anything else I'd ever tasted. I had an important job watching the light on the grill and took it very seriously. More like a cross between a crepe and a typical pancake with bacon grease as critical ingredient, I put down more than my share. They also made their own syrup, the traditional way in a large pan outside on an open fire. The whole family would visit during maple syrup season and I would walk through the woods with Grandma checking and collecting buckets of the sap and when it snowed, Leo would make us hard maple syrup candy right from the pan.
They had a real bar in the family room and Leo would take my order like I was a grownup and serve up my kiddy cocktail with the flair of a real bartender. He was a gifted story teller and a man of mystery, with strange gravity defying devices carved from wood like tops and a thing that would suspend a belt on the edge of the table and bounce as if suspended by a magnet. He also polished stones and I loved to look at all them and touch their smooth surfaces.
Hanson Lake was a magic place. Near the dock there were large rocks that could be peeled off in sheets and almost seen though. Closer to the water, giant bullfrogs hid in the tall grass. Leo said he would cook up the legs if I caught one. I caught a few but let them go.
Grandma would take me fishing on the lake. First we would go get supplies. I would always get a toy from the store by the lake and usually lose it before I returned home. One year we got Worm in a Can Cola. The top had two holes, one to drink from and one to let in air. We would gather earthworms from the rich soil and go out near the lily pads and bobber fish for sunnies and then eat them that night, either in a cornbread or beer batter. Nothing tasted better.
One winter we were there when Grandma got a bunch of chicks. We played with them for hours; they were so cute and yellow. That next summer I got to see them all grown up. Grandma collected eggs and we went out to the pen one night before dinner.
"Pick one out."
I couldn't really recognize them all grown up but I convince myself I knew which one had been my favorite and I pointed it out. She picked it up and carried it back to the house. Halfway there, she stopped at a stump, grabbed the bird by the neck and swung it around snapping its neck with a quick twitch of her wrist. I stood by, eyes big and unable to speak. She chopped off its head and gutted it quick, handing me a foot so I could see how the claws opened and shut when you pulled on the tendons. Then she showed me how to pluck it and I helped. By the time it came out of the oven, I was done with my silent mourning.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

American Sniper

Wow, the bullshit is running deep and from mostly people that never served a day in their lives. Im not talking only about just the military either; Im talking about any form of service. People that worked in the Peace Corps or even AmeriCorps get more respect from me than someone that has never served anyone but themselves.  What do any of you that have never served know about the motivations of the people that join? Their motivations are as varied as the people themselves. But lets get one thing very clear. Even those that served only in peacetime surrendered their rights as citizens and became the property of the US government for the length of their contracts. How dare you minimize and demean even that sacrifice, let alone the ones made by those who served in combat, especially those of you that havent even bothered to volunteer for Habitat for Humanity. Youre right in that they don't do it for any of you, they do it for their country and once down range, they do it for each other as well.

I am in full agreement that the Iraq war was a mistake, but I also dont care once soldiers are on the ground somewhere. Then, the people we all elected sent them into harms way and that is on all of us. You dont get to hide behind platitudes because it wasnt your president. Forget waving the flag or buying a bumper sticker at that point. The only way to support the troops once they are deployed is to give them a clear objective, all the gear they need and get them back home as soon as possible.

As for the other comments going around about soldiers being racist or sociopaths, make up your fucking mind. An Armys job is to kill the enemy. A soldiers job is to kill the enemy. But even with all of the training they go through, people have a problem killing. Thats normal. Killing another person is supposed to be hard. As long as soldiers have existed, they have dehumanized their enemies. They use derogatory names and think of them as targets. If they were sociopaths, they wouldnt have to do this. A sociopath feels no remorse when killing. They feel nothing whatsoever, including any connection to their fellow man or in this case, fellow soldiers. They have no need to degrade or dehumanize the enemy and no special interests in protecting anyone but themselves. Soldiers, and that includes snipers, are not sociopaths. That doesnt mean that there has never been a sociopath that became a soldier, but that isnt the accusation being thrown about. Sociopaths also never suffer from PTSD.

Heres a little test to drive home my point. You can lie to me and others, but don't lie to yourselves. Write down or type out the names you use to describe people that have opposing political views. Describe the most recent president of the party that you disagree with the most. Do you consider people with opposing viewpoints as equal to yourself? Do you respect their right to disagree with you? Or do you use inflammatory and derogatory adjectives to describe their mental state, question the legitimacy of their birth and sometimes, when no one can overhear you, question their right to breath your air?

These folks arent the enemy; they are fellow citizens if your country that you disagree with, yet you dehumanize them with thought and speech. These arent people you have to kill before they kill you, they are just people with a different political viewpoint. How then can you judge a soldier harshly for calling the enemy savages or worse? Our soldiers called the Japanese and Germans horrible names and their soldiers returned the favor.

It drives some people crazy that anyone could idolize a soldier. Thats any solider. Sure, they will make hay from any other weakness or flaw be it real or imagined, but those arguments are secondary to their main objection, which is that someone who has served their country should be admired. How dare Clint Eastwood make a movie that so many Americans watch about a sniper. If American Sniper only made $15 Million like Hurt Locker, then no one would have had a problem with it. It wouldnt be news worthy so folks like Moore wouldnt comment on it. Since it has made a lot of money and is news, they just cant stand it.

Rolling Stones reporter Matt Taibbi spewed his venom all over the movie because it failed to point out that the Iraq war was a mistake. It failed to call out the real villains within the beltway that caused the Iraq war to occur. There is a time and a place for that discussion and there are plenty of people that have the means to make a movie supporting that point of view. What Taibbi fails to understand and will likely never understand, is that for soldiers, it is irrelevant. The righteousness of any war can be debated. We were attacked in WWII by Japan, but in turn, we attacked Germany. We eventually counter attacked Japan as well, but our justification for attacking Germany was as weak as imagined WMDs. In all of US history, this is a war that has the least number of US citizens claiming we were wrong to be involved; yet the US did horrible things to the enemy.

It isnt enough that 1% of our citizens must shoulder the burden of the entire nation with their service. Now, each solider that fires a shot at an enemy on the battlefield must do so with remorse, while praising them as fellow human beings and later with deep regret. Well congratufuckinglations, people you at least got your wish. On average, 22 veterans are committing suicide every day. Many of the soldiers that have served since 9/11 have come home physically and emotionally damaged. Just keep telling yourself its just a job and these people are in no way heroic.

As for Kyle, I dont care if he was a flawed human being that made up stuff after his service. If anything, it is only an indication that what he went through damaged him more than he cared to admit. He served in harms way for multiple tours, saved a lot of soldiers lives and lost friends. If a bunch of combat vets want to get in a room and discuss Kyle either pro or con, go for it, those folks are the only ones qualified to have an opinion. The rest of you need a big cup of shut the fuck up.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

The Long Walk

The memories of my time in the Army fluctuate. One day they seem so long ago that it must have happened to someone else and I just heard the story, and other times it feels like I just got back home from Ft Dix yesterday.

I wasn't an Explosive Ordnance Disposal technician for long, yet I was young and it left a permanent impression on me. I did the job back in the days before bomb suits and robots. We walked downrange without hat or blouse, because they could get in the way. We had a hero kit strapped to our legs filled with a blasting cap crimper, a demolition knife, a dive knife, a Leatherman and a role of electrical tape.

During the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, I heard the expression "the long walk" for the first time. It's what the EOD techs now call that lonely stroll downrange to either identify or render safe an unexploded piece of ordnance or Improvised Explosive Device. The Long Walk. It fits. It says so much in only a few words. Yet despite the inherent danger associated with even the most mundane of tasks like blowing up a faulty hand grenade with a block of C-4, I never once remember being afraid.

This is not bravado. I didn't lack fear. I was just under the delusion that I could handle whatever was at the end of my walk. They did a good job at school and later in the unit reinforcing this belief. Despite having lost 162 techs between 1941 and 1985, it seemed like those were things that happened to other people. We needed to believe that, so we did.

This is what I thought as I took another kind of long walk today. The elevator door opened to drab colors, worn carpet and a tired institutional smell. The building is quite different from the one my father died in seven years ago, but the feelings are the same. I was there to visit one of my favorite people in the world and had no idea if she would even know I was there.

Like most people, I had two grandmas. My father's mom passed away when I was eleven. We were never close. She was so much different than the person I thought of as my real grandma. Grandma Dora was always my grandma, and now she's in hospice. She's 95 and has had a full, rich life, but I am greedy. I want more. One more game of scrabble. One more meal shared. One more story told. I sound like my daughters when they were small but I don’t care, I want one more.

The elevator closed behind me and I was afraid. Like the walks I took to see my father in his final days, I feared that I was not ready for what was downrange. I feared that I would not be strong enough for Dora or my mom. Would this be the last time I saw her? Would she know I'm there? Was I already too late?

You're never ready. There is no ready. So I put one foot in front of the other and patted the spot on my hip where my hero kit used to rest and I tried not to think about what could happen. Those things happen to the other guys. Now at home, all I can think about is to hope I have another chance at the long walk, so I can hold her hand and look into her eyes, just one more time.