I took a breath of fresh air
I took in the view at the top
--I'm Willing, Ben Lee
And let each one perform some part,
To fill with joy the warrior's heart,
And we'll all feel gay when
Johnny comes marching home
--When Johnny Comes Marching Home,
That valley is fatal when furnaces burn,
Yonder's the midden whose odors will madden,
That gap is the grave where the tall return
--O Where Are you Going, W. H. Auden
This is a veteran's Day reminiscence.
Ranger has discussed training exercises, which were institutional lessons in misery as the soldier's lot. During training and in life I learned to disconnect and depersonalize to the point of neurosis, which is normal terrain for a soldier. I remember the beauty around me and my inability to see beyond my self-centered misery.
This misery was outwardly-imposed, but later in life it became self-imposed. Misery became a friend, and along with this was a hardness of spirit induced by training and experience. I do not an cannot complain or wimp out decrying the hardness that I voluntarily embraced. But I never thought I would become the hardness, and in turn would add more to the formula.
I developed a technique I called "blinking it off" to deal with unpleasantness or the need for violence. I will simply turn my head and blink, and when I turn back to the previous focal point I am then ready for whatever will happen. This is a conscious depersonalization developed for self-protection.
I have become the numb hardness that cannot be gauged on a Rockwell hardness test. Looking back, I did try to cut slack and go easy on those around me when it was possible, but I also expected them to respond to command. My humanity was a form of inhumanity. My sympathy had an end point surpassed by orders and the needs of the service.
The times I ran afoul of the system were those events when I tried to cut slack for myself and/or for those around me. There is no slack for a soldier, nor is any slack due. We acknowledge this and live within this harsh terrain. This interior is what makes us veterans.
It is not the flags or the parades, the uniforms or the medals. It is the thing that no one will ever see; it is in our minds and is unquantifiable. It is that willingness to obey.
I don't care that I chose a hard road, but I regret that I became the hard road. In modern terms, Ranger has embraced the suck. I also wonder why parents so readily send their offspring to this reality which crosses to unreality in the blink of an eye.
Well, anyway, I'm a veteran but I'll never again don a uniform nor will I ever attend a parade, but I still fail to see or acknowledge the beauty around me.
Beauty is not mission essential.