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Memorial Day 2014: Lessons Learned From Time With A Soldier

Image Courtesy of Memorial Day Quotes

I've seen a lot in life, and there's a lot I can relate too.
Anytime I hear someone talk about their experiences in the Gulf, or Iraq, or Vietnam or Korea or any one of the seemingly endless stream of wars throughout our history, I freeze. I have no idea what to say. I can't even imagine (Literally. I'm a writer and I can't imagine what it's like to have this stuff in one's head) what that must've been like.

So when it comes to Memorial Day I always struggle with what to say because, what could I possibly say that would do any of our servicemen justice?
But I'd like to honor the sacrifice, so this year, I'd like to tell you about a man I met a long time ago. I was nineteen, way more arrogant than I am now (if you can believe that), and under the impression that karate was everything.

I'll call this man "Mike". He was early fifties, I'm guessing, and in pretty good physical condition, though all I see is "old man". He's a former Green Beret, or so he claims, and back then I'm not nearly smart enough to know what that means.

See, back then, we're both homeless, and the only way we earn money is to fight. Tonight, we're fighting each other.
I expected to take him down quickly. I was very, very wrong. In fact, it's one of the first times I ever remembered becoming frightened while fighting. It's mortifying to hit someone so much older than you with everything you have, and I mean with so much force that you nearly go down yourself--and he barely takes a step back.

I learn that night was Close Quarter Combat is. I also learn that I hate it.
It's controlled chaos, and nothing I can do will keep him away. He bats my moves away as though they're nothing and then something is restricted. My arm, my leg, my neck. I hit the ground so many times I lose track.
I'm never hit just once. It's always a minimum of twice. It's like my stomach is unfolding and I can feel his punches inside of me.

I confess, I win by cheating. He had me in a chokehold that had I stayed in another ten seconds, I may not be here to tell you this story. He was too close to the wall and I was able to use momentum against him. Now that I think about it, I'm pretty sure he let me get away with that.

But after collecting my winnings I become a nuisance. I follow him everywhere, almost demanding to know what he does. I've never been hit like that, held like that. I didn't even know techniques like that were possible. Tell me how. Tell me now. Show me.

In the height of my arrogance, I demand to know and threaten to beat him up again. I wince as I write those words.

But finally, he relents. And he does show me a few things. I ask him where he learned that stuff.
And he tells me.
He puts images in my head that give me nightmares for weeks. He tells me of things to horrifying to be made up, his eyes in a faraway place as he recounts the atrocities of war, frequently clasping his dog tags to keep himself in the here and now.

I don't know what to say. I listen.

He disappeared a few weeks later. I never saw him again.

To those of you who serve our country, who allow these things to lodge permanently into your mind, to the families that sacrifice time and risk never seeing a loved one again because they believe in something great, to those who are still on the front lines fighting that there may never be another September 11th...

Thank you very much for your service.

Happy Memorial Day.

Thanks for reading.


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