In war, you play for keeps. It is simple — when you get shot in combat, you die or have a wound for the remainder of your life. And some wounds don’t heal with time as I have observed in Veterans from past wars — they carry with them a constant reminder of their military service. For those with amputations, life can never really return to normal.
And some times the wounds are invisible and only seen after the war when the Veteran is home and his life deteriorates. Combat and Operational Stress Reactions (COSR) and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) plague soldiers from every war. With the civilian public, there is no badge of honor with this wound, just perceived shame and much misunderstanding. And like the physical wounds, sometimes the mental wounds and tears never go away.
As I can only imagine, the worst part of being killed in combat, for dying for your country, is not a premature or painful death, but dying away from home. Having your last breath, your last sight, your last smell in a brown, barren, stench-filled hole, 10,000 miles from home has to be worse than dying at home with your family in a hospital or nursing home … or even in a car wreck.
The war continues and I train troops for this war. Speaking to my battalion’s class of freshly graduating Soldiers and Marines last winter at Fort Dix, many of whom were headed directly to the Middle East, I was pained as I congratulated them on their academic success, knowing that maybe one of them, would in all probability, be wounded or killed in combat doing the job I had just taught them. One Soldier was my high school classmate, one Marine was my college classmate — their fate is personal to me — but so is the fate of all my troops. I pray for them.
On Memorial Day we honor the dead from the battlefields of all our wars. And some of us who did come home from the battlefield wish we had died in the war, rather than suffer wounds seen and unseen. No Soldier or Marine knows what fate has for them in battle. But, they do know their duty to their Nation. And they must live with that duty forever, even after the war. Whether they have a short life taken on the field of battle or a long life with scars that don’t heal, combat veterans suffer the burden of their Nation. On this Memorial Day, let us give thanks for the burden that Soldiers, Sailors Airmen and Marines suffered for us and our United States.
Lt. Col Rick Simmons is the Pickens County Veterans Affairs Officer and a Battalion Commander in the Army Reserve. He has served in Iraq and Afghanistan, and he is the recipient of The Bronze Star medal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.