Monday, May 28, 2012

One Hero's Story.

I take so much for granted. I think we all do.

We can get so put out, so upset, about bad cell reception or waiting too long for a mondo burrito or having to stand the entire duration of a twenty-minute bus ride.

At least we Americans have returned to thanking our men and women who wear the uniform to defend our right to complain about trivial matters. At least our teenage soldiers no longer must face further trauma at home after surviving the ambiguity and terror of an unnecessary war in southeast Asia.

But I still don't think most of us really comprehend how different our lives would be--right this minute--if a lot of people hadn't performed acts which defied reason and even sanity to protect not just a nation but the very idea of freedom.

Perhaps I would still author this blog, but each post would require submission to the Cultural Media Commission of the German Democratic Republic of America prior to publication. Maybe past pieces were rejected due to provocative political content, where either I was required to redact the part about Mitt Romney's magical underwear or risk a visit from some men in stylish yet sinister long leather jackets and fedoras.

Of course, I'd only be permitted to publicly share my writing upon fulfilling genetic purity standards which require a European descent minimum of ninety percent. Thank God my membership in the master race pays dividends despite my country's second place finish in World War II.

My uncle, John Conway, was one of the folks who made sure the preceding scenario never materialized. He was a young Marine lieutenant assigned to the Pacific theater during the War. I've always thought the term "theater" was an ill-fitting moniker for war. Theaters are often-ornate venues designed for viewing highly produced, well-rehearsed performances. I'm not so sure a series of heavily fortified volcanic islands which offer less than a fifty percent chance of returning home safely would even qualify as off-Broadway.

My Uncle John never talked about the horrors he saw, the friends he lost or the innumerable brushes with death he faced while storming the beaches of Iwo Jima and Okinawa. And I didn't ask him.

He passed away in 1995. After having survived not only the Second World War, but also the Korean and Vietnam wars, he was finally enjoying the fruits of his sacrifices. A retired Marine Corps colonel, he and his wife, my Aunt Iris, lived an active lifestyle, traveling the country in their recreational vehicle.

In October of 1995, while preparing the RV for another adventure, my Uncle John fell off a ladder and hit his head. In a twist of cruel, brutal irony, he died the following day.

A few years later, I asked my Aunt Iris if Uncle John had ever spoken of any of his war ordeals. She replied that yes, he had, but only one. As tears welled up in her eyes, she related his experience during the Marine Corps' initial assault on Iwo Jima in 1945 while approaching the island aboard an amphibious assault craft. With the only sound provided by the enemy fire between the crash of the waves, a single human voice broke through the din.

It was the company chaplain:

"Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me."

Huddled in a corner of my parent's living room, we wept silently together as the refrain of the twenty-third Psalm burned itself forever into my memory.

Words can't describe my gratitude to all who serve.

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