Separating Honor and Pain

Separating Honor and Pain

May 2010 ~ It’s Memorial Day, 2010 and I have been struggling for a week with how I am going to spend my day. What I want to do is go to Camp Nelson to attend the Memorial Day Program. Every year I go to a ceremony somewhere to honor those who have served and sacrificed on my behalf.

So what’s the problem you ask. With Memorial Day being synonymous with the “Unofficial Start of Summer” most people are celebrating the long weekend with family outings, camping trips, beach vacations, and more. Every retailer out there is having a Memorial Day Sale, but I’m not trying to decide between the Mattress Close Out Sale and purchasing a a new car during the Ford “Swap Your Ride” promotion going on this weekend. I’m not even trying to decide between attending the barbecue down the street and going to the pool now that it’s open.

I’m trying to decide between going to Camp Nelson to honor our military, veterans, and fallen heroes, and staying home with my head buried under my blankets. You see, it just might hurt too much to go anywhere this year.

I run a small non-profit organization that supports our military, their families, and our veterans. I don’t just stop one day a year to throw a flag out in the yard and say thanks. I’m busy all day, everyday, doing something to let our troops know I care about them. I haven’t always been this way, in fact, I’m embarrassed to say there was a time when I didn’t give our military much thought at all. There have been plenty of Memorial Days where you could have found me hitting the beach or buying that mattress……and I am not proud of that fact.

One day it all became personal and I was no longer just a blessed individual, who, by the grace of God was born in this country instead of another. One day I woke up and found myself to be the mother of a 17 year old boy who had just graduated from high school and was leaving for USMC boot camp. I had actually tried to talk him out of enlisting. I was hopeful that he would go to college first. Since he was old enough to speak in sentences, he has spoken of his intent to serve in the military. I should not have been surprised that he wanted to do things his way, but I guess my hope that he would be spared from going to war had kept my blinders on during his senior year.

Six years later, I’ve learned a lot from my son. I got a small glimpse of what it really means to love your country. I’ve had a chance to really consider the sacrifices that are made so that we can live in freedom. I’ve come to realize that the guys doing the fighting are just some of those that make a sacrifice. Each one leaves behind a family that must bravely go on during deployments. They are making a huge sacrifice as well. I’ve met the most amazing, selfless people who have willingly put their own lives and families on hold so that they could step up to protect all of us. I can’t imagine how sad and meaningless my life would be if I had not been thrown, against my will, into this world of the military and then been given the privilege of supporting them on a daily basis.

I probably learned one of my most valuable life lessons the day my son left for his first deployment to Iraq. As I caught my last glimpse of him, I suddenly realized that I didn’t care one bit about the insignificant bad habits for which I had spent 18 years nagging at him to stop. Nothing mattered except the fact that I needed him to come back home to me.

While he was deployed, he would call and tell me about some kid that wasn’t getting any mail and I would feel compelled to take care of him. It wasn’t long before I was mailing boxes to everyone and receiving letters of thanks from the Marines and their family members. Relationships developed and before I knew it I was surrounded by an incredible family of support. In giving just a little bit to others, I was inundated with beautiful friendships and found myself feeling like a real member of the fabric of the United States of America.

I saw my son blossom as he served. He was definitely more mature after boot camp, but the more striking change came after he returned from his first deployment. The second deployment showed even more growth, and it wasn’t long before he was making the decision to reenlist and become a part of Special Operations. The training for this type of job was grueling, but my son was thriving.

On Memorial Day, 2008, he was home on leave just prior to his third deployment. He had just purchased his first home, and had just given the girl of his dreams an engagement ring. This being the first Memorial Day that he was not deployed or involved in training since he first enlisted, it was such a blessing to have him with us at the Memorial Day Program at Lexington Cemetery that day. He was wearing his Dress Blues and he was so proud to be a US Marine. I stood behind him during the Pledge of Allegiance and wept as I watched him standing so still, saluting as only a Marine can do.

Fast forward to Memorial Day 2010. The Marine I just described is dead. Oh, not physically dead, but the proud Marine that once inhabited the body of my son is gone, never to return. Now, what remains is one who has been wounded by war and even more devastating, wounded by his own. Yes, I am referring to the very men that “take care of their own”. Those who live by the motto “Semper Fidelis” or “Always Faithful.”

When he returned from his third deployment in late 2008, my Marine had reached a point where he could no longer suffer in silence. What we didn’t know prior to this time was that he had suffered a concussion during his second deployment which had left him with a mild Traumatic Brain Injury. The struggles he was having seemed controllable, or so he thought, and after all he had gone through to become a member of MarSOC, he was not about to tell anyone. He had already seen what happened to others who sought help. Everyone on the inside knows that once the information is out, the Marine is finished.

Oh sure, those in power will tell you that there is no stigma and the door is wide open, but those in the lower ranks will tell you otherwise. So, what do we do when we discover that our wounded warriors are being mistreated by their own? The Marine Corps would have us all look the other way.

For the past eighteen months, I have watched the United States Marine Corps destroy my son. Whatever parts of him that were left when he returned from his third deployment are likely lost forever. They spent over a quarter of a million dollars to train him to be a Special Operator and then, when he came to them and asked for help, they threw some pills at him, sat him in a corner, and began the process of destroying a good Marine. Then, if that wasn’t enough, they threw some more pills at him and forced him to put up with the rants of misplaced drill sergeants who should have been clocking in aboard Parris Island instead of the Wounded Warrior Battalion where “patient” is the billet description for each Marine.

It’s one thing to yell at new recruits who are training for war. It is quite another to yell derogatory insults to a room full of wounded Marines who have served their country and have earned the right to be respected.

The saddest part of this story is the fact that Marine Corps is looking the other way. Leaders in the highest positions know this is going on, but they refuse to acknowledge the problems, let alone fix them.

We keep hearing the same message over and over. Thousands of veterans are suffering with PTSD and TBI. Thousands of troops are returning from multiple deployments with these issues. Suicide rates are climbing at an alarming rate. Family members like me are screaming for help and it seems like no one is listening……but the reality is that THEY ARE LISTENING and they are deliberately choosing NOT to do anything about it. In fact, they are spending their efforts to cover up the problems because the truth is that their careers are more important than the lives of these wounded warriors.

This behavior goes against the defining code of the Marine Corps! Their motto, Semper Fidelis means ALWAYS Faithful. It doesn’t mean “Sometimes Faithful”, or “Usually Faithful if it’s good for me.” I was there the day my son received his Eagle, Globe and Anchor, the day he officially became one of The Few and The Proud. I saw his face when he took ownership of the promise of “Semper Fidelis”. This right of passage that he earned was not negotiable, not relative, not fleeting. It was an absolute, or so he thought.

He gave his all to his country and the Corps. What did he get in return? Nothing but disrespect. He was spit on and cast aside. They stripped him of his dignity and left him an empty shell wandering aimlessly without hope. My son is a Marine. This is how he defines himself, yet he feels hatred toward those who have stolen his life. How does he hate the very thing that defines him? Does this mean he hates himself? How do I continue to support the entity that destroyed my first born son? I know how hard it is for me to sort through this mess, so I can’t imagine how difficult this must be for him.

For me, I can look at it this way. I am supporting the individual wearing the uniform, not the entity of the US Marine Corps. It’s easy to move forward with this mindset, but I didn’t go through rigorous training and deployments. I didn’t watch friends die, nor was I a part of violent and traumatic experiences. I also didn’t get slapped in the face by those who promised they had my back.

So, as I was saying. I’m not sure if I’m going to attend the Memorial Day Program at Camp Nelson this year or if I’m going to pull the covers over my head and stay in bed all day. I’m hurt and I’m disappointed and though I don’t want to feel this way, I can’t help that this is my emotional response. My son stepped up to serve this nation. He took an oath and in return, his nation was supposed to take care of him. He fulfilled the requirements to become one of “The Few and The Proud” and they promised to be “Always Faithful” but as it turns out, they really meant “Sometimes Faithful.”

I mourn the loss of my son every single day. The man that inhabits his body is someone unfamiliar to me. Each day the “death” of my son is raw and fresh, making it impossible to move on. When a physical death occurs, it takes time for all of us, but we do move on. We are designed to recover and move forward. We must do so in order to survive. I know the most important tool I’ve got to help me cross this mountain is the good Lord above. He is right here with me and He’s not going anywhere.

I’ll probably go to the Memorial Day program at Camp Nelson, because as I said, we are designed to recover and move forward. As long as my son is still drawing breath, I have hope, which is more some have to hold onto….so I will put one foot in front of the other and I’ll go pay my respects to those that have served for me….and this year I will probably be the one in the crowd sobbing, but it’s better than the alternative.

Originally published by the author at fellednot.com

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