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Sweet Soldier Boy

September 11, 2008 Leave a comment Go to comments

As I sat at BWI last night waiting for my plane to take me home to Tampa, I noticed a young soldier sitting nearby, fiddling with his cell phone.

Whenever I see someone wearing a military uniform, my brain runs through a string of thoughts. Should I say something to them? Do they get sick of people thanking them for their service? Does it become an empty platitude from someone who clearly has no idea what it is they’re going through? It’s sort of the same range of thoughts that I have when I see a disabled person. Do I treat them normally by ignoring them, or do I show what a great person I am by paying them some attention that makes them stand out even more?

I carried on reading my MAD magazine (btw, for anyone over 40, don’t bother — it’s just not the same). Our plane finally took off and when we landed, I had to wait to get off the plane while the soldier and the flight attendant searched the overhead bins. He had been carrying a guitar in a soft case and they found it farther back. He slung the guitar over his shoulder like a rifle and I followed him out of the plane.

When we got inside the terminal, the young man turned around and said to me, “This is the first time I’ve ever flown. Do you know where the baggage claim is?”

I looked him in the eye and smiled. The last time I’d seen someone so young-looking wearing army fatigues was on Halloween. My heart burst in my chest and I just wanted to hug him. Instead I said, “Follow me…” On our long walk to the shuttle I asked him where he’d been, etc. He just finished training for the reserves and was headed home on break. Being a musician myself, I asked him about his guitar-playing. He said he plays all styles.

I thought about how many of us are suffering from war fatigue but I didn’t mention it to him. Even though the war is a world away on this 7th anniversary of the attacks on the US by Al Qaeda, we all feel the psychic drain of the continued fighting. In America, we continue to argue the semantics of the various differences in our culture as we are being asked to choose sides when all we really want is the freedom to enjoy and appreciate our different styles.

In the eyes of that young soldier I saw an optimism I haven’t seen in a while. Though he jokingly complained about life in the army, I could see how excited he was by his independence and by the many times each day he is thanked for serving his country. I realized that my expression of gratitude is part of what makes him able to sacrifice the light that shone so brightly on his face for the sake of such darkness. If that’s all I can do, at least it’s something.

I don’t know what will become of this sweet boy, but I have a feeling that if he makes it through our current conflict, we will be seeing him again someday, playing his guitar and musically recounting for us the memories of the people who stood beside him on behalf of their beloved country. I will be the first one in line to buy his first album…

Thank you, all of you sweet soldier boys and girls….be sure to protect that inner light — you’ll need it to see your way home.

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Categories: Politics Tags: , ,
  1. Tom
    December 7, 2008 at 11:05 pm

    Ellen, a remarkable piece … your wanting to hug the boy made me chuckle with delight and brought a tear to my eye …

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