When Boys Become Heroes

My (former) Stepson leaves for basic training for the National Guard next week. (Yes, I know, just when you thought you had my family figured out I throw in another player. Get used to it, there’s more.) He’s 17 years old and for another week he is still a junior in high school and then he leaves to begin his training as a soldier.

I always thought of soldiers as men and women, never teenagers just learning to drive, girls giggling about boys, boys giggling about farts, kids playing football in the yard. Soldiers are heroes, every one of them, for the choice they made when they signed on the dotted line. Soldiers, in my mind, are not the kid I just stopped buying Pokemon cards for not that damn long ago.

As I wrestle with this dichotomy I realize my own parents must have, too. My Oldest Brother is a Marine. I have only vague memories of the time right before he left for basic training and they are most likely skewed by time and my own ideas. I don’t remember being upset that he was leaving or fearing for his safety. I was probably only 12, though. When you are 12 and come from a safe home in a safe environment you tend to assume the world is safe. It still seems strange to me, though, that I have no memory of my parents’ reactions or emotions during this time. As an adult, I find that I am intuitive and empathetic. Was I dense as a child or just wrapped up in my own little world? Probably both.

I do remember conversations on our kitchen phone and a letter he sent. He liked Guns-N-Roses and wondered if I did, too and wanted to know if I could send him some of the books I lifted from the school because he wanted to read everything. I remember that his visits home were always a “big deal” and he looked different every time we saw him. And I remember that suddenly my parents were worried about a possible war and I was probably 15 by then and war was something that only happened in history books and the background of Mash. I can tell you so much about 15, what kind of clothes I wore, parties by the boat docks, the notebook my friends and I passed, the fights we had, the trouble I got into, but I can tell you very little about Desert Storm.

My brother was deployed to Saudi Arabia and it might as well have been Narnia, to me. He was still very far away, just in a different far away place. CNN was on night and day at our house. I wasn’t doing much to make anything easier on my parents, I know that. My Middle Older Brother went to University and that left just Youngest Older Brother and me at home and I’m pretty sure we were both ridiculously naughty for the entire year.

It was some time during that year, though, that I started to pay attention. I still wasn’t worried but I was starting to form opinions, such as, my brother should come home immediately because war is dark and ugly and bad. I think this was my mother’s doing. She had a notebook with poems she wrote as a teenager and newspaper clipping of friends that didn’t make it home from Vietnam. (Note to self: Ask mom if that actually existed or if my memory is skewed yet again.) If our home had a soundtrack of the year it would be Bob Dylan and The Beatles and the steady drone of CNN in the background. You can’t help but form opinions under those conditions.

I have my opinions. I would not choose the military for Stepson, but it was his choice and I am proud of him. It was expected. Everyone he looks up to, including his father, my ex-husband, is or was in the military. It was not a surprise. It was only a surprise that the idea “someday he will join the military” suddenly became the reality that he is leaving next week.

I worry now. It started when Oldest Brother was no longer in danger. His time in Saudi Arabia was over, he was back to Hawaii and would be home soon, this time for good. A “big deal” was scheduled and everything was a celebration. That is when I started to worry, not about the dangers of war, but that something else would happen and he would not make it home, something more realistic than a war, like a car crash or a mugging or some freak accident. I’m an adult now and I don’t need to channel my fears into something more realistic. I have no problem worrying about the most far-fetched of possibilities, let alone the very real danger of joining the military in troubled times.

I always thought of soldiers as men and women, not teenagers just barely older than I was when I could not grasp the reality of war. But they almost all start that way, as kids, not even old enough to drink legally, but prepared to serve their country in any way necessary.

That is the thought I want to leave you with this Memorial Day. We grill out, we swim, we gather with friends and we do it all under the protection of our armed forces, the sons and daughters of our friends and family.

Do not forget.


4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. justanothertiredmommy
    May 27, 2012 @ 18:00:17

    I cannot shake the chills this gave me–thank you for the reminder. I want to steal your last paragraph to put it on a banner or a T shirt or something–it is so powerful and true. It is so easy to forget that we would’t even be here to complain about our lives if it weren’t for the sacrifices these men and women (boys and girls really) and their families make for us every day..


    • razfabulous
      May 27, 2012 @ 18:06:35

      Wow, thank you. It feels good to know that my writing is coming across the way I want it to, especially from other writers I admire and enjoy reading.


      • justanothertiredmommy
        May 27, 2012 @ 18:24:21

        Wow…THANK YOU! I know what you mean about getting the feedback. It’s funny–I always think that I am the one admiring other people’s writing and it amazes me when I get complimented by someone as talented as you! In fact, I read this at first and thought that it was someone complimenting YOU–thanks again! ;o)

  2. imaginalcellsofchange
    May 31, 2012 @ 23:40:52

    Ehh… War is such a tough thing for me to talk about…but here I go. I agree in some ways. It is incredible to me that people make the choice to join the armed forces. Incredible for many reasons. I think it is beautiful that they would risk their lives in order to make a better world. However, I do not believe war is an answer…The only reason to fight should be to defend yourself/ family, It is sooo sad to me to think of these brave souls who are hoodwinked into believing they are fighting for our freedom. They are not. End of story. If they really want to fight for freedom they need to face those who are trying to take it away not innocent families who are simply trying to live. There is so much distracting us from the real issues. Honoring those who fight is okay but it needs to be done in the context of ending their need to fight. Otherwise it feels empty. Memorial Day seems to be a day to care without getting your hands dirty.

    I would wager no one wants to be at war but many still feel it is inevitable. I dare you to question that belief. Is a world without war possible? Can you be part of creating that world?

    I believe the answer to both those questions are yes! YES! YES! YES! I can’t tell you exactly how to get their. Each path is so splendidly unique but I do believe it starts with questioning EVERYTHING you believe, cutting through what the media has been telling you your whole life to find truth, thinking outside the box, and communicating/ sharing these openings/awakenings with everyone you can. It is NOT easy. It would be easier to stay in your comfort zone. You could do that. But you would miss out on sooo much joy and beauty that comes with this difficult path.


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