Here is an essay I had written about the concerns of a female Marine MP while I lived among our brave troops in Okinawa. It has received several hits since and for that, dear readers, I sincerely thank you.
Yes, Amanda, you are more than just a number...
by Bill Neven
She is young enough to be my daughter, a twenty-year-old with a child's green eyes and long, dark hair. On base, she is part of the military police, a marine — one who aspires to be a writer, herself, some day.
Much to my surprise, though, she hopes to write contemporary literature eventually even though she knows that romance writing is where the money is for a beginning novelist. But then there is the war to consider. She feels committed to fight for our country but openly fears she will die once deployed. Her only other complaint with regard to such a scenario? That folks back home will think of her as they have the other troops who have perished, more as a number than as a real person.
I assure her I do not feel that way nor do most other civilians. As for my own opinion regarding Iraq, I keep that to myself, always making it a point to tell any young service person I meet that every American values their lives and appreciates their sacrifices.
Still, it is hard to look into their eyes sometimes.
One young marine I had met - who had been a tent-mate of my son's two years back - had stopped over three months ago from his air base in Alaska before being deployed to Tikrit. He was wounded by shrapnel shortly afterwards but said he was glad not to have lost any fingers or toes. He did receive some good news, too. His wife had finally had their first baby, a beautiful girl.
Thinking of which, while shopping at the Commissary the other day, I heard two mothers assure their children that their fathers would be home soon but had to be brave for The President and the American people for now. One had me reach up and retrieve three boxes of the same kind of cereal on one of the upper racks. After she told three of her girls to thank me for helping them, she laughed that they were only half of her voracious brood, the other three being at school nearby on base that very moment.
Then today, at Kadena AB, Anthony returned. He is a large man, an African-American sergeant who has to beat the women off him, one who admits he has not been too lucky at retaining relationships over his years of service but does have both a son and a daughter from his two failed marriages. Before he was again deployed into harm's way, he told me he just had to take some free time to see them again - one who lives in Arizona, the other California.
Then there is Tony. Two weeks from now he will be redeployed to North Carolina, happy to be back in the USA. He has tattoos over most of his upper body. One design in particular - that of a blue-stained skull over his right bicep - I found to be especially intriguing. A native of New Jersey, he confessed that a judge had given him a choice of either jail or the Army. That was the only reason he was here.
Denise is from out east as well [Philadelphia], a nineteen year-old who was shy when I first met her almost a year ago but is now confidentially assertive. A tall and slender African-American, she works as a nurse at Camp Lester and hopes to continue in that profession once her TDY [tour of duty] is up.
Jeff, on the other hand, is probably not himself though it has nothing to do with any war. Seems he received one of those 'Dear John' letters from his high school sweetheart last month. He said he is glad to be with people who have gone through it, too, and to take heart when they tell him it is true that time heals all wounds.
My son's immediate superior, Tom, is a sergeant, die-hard Pittsburgh Pirate fan and tries to maintain a positive mien. Unmarried and in his early thirties, he is almost always seen at various ceremonies and events. As for the war, it mostly means just another electrical job to him albeit one, which, he notes, has perils involved.
There are thousands of others, of course, with eight military bases on the China-facing side of Okinawa and six more pointing toward California; every troop in every one of them is openly committed to serving their country but, at the same time, are understandably concerned.
As for my own son, he has given his time, and I am proud of him for that. Yet, I cannot help but wonder how many of these others will not be returning to their families, oftentimes leaving children less one parent. We all well know that more than 800 Americans have died in Iraq since President Bush declared the major conflict to be over but - regardless of one's opinion on the legitimacy or wisdom of this war - we must never forget these kids and their families, most of whom would make any American proud to have known them.
So you see, Amanda - no matter what the future may hold for you and the others - you are more than only a number to the rest of us.
Much, much more . .
Author's Note: Though I had posted it here on March 12th, I thought it only apropos to do so again.