Once upon a time there was a little boy who loved to listen to stories that his grandfather told. His grandfather seemed larger than life, and the boy was especially proud of the fact that his grandpa had served in WWII. Unlike other kids, this boy didn’t consume comics, pulp fiction, or really any fiction. This boy liked to read history books, but his favorites were books about soldiers, their battles, strategies, courage, and lives.
As you might imagine, this boy was tough. He was small for his age, and so occasionally someone might foolishly underestimate him, but never for long. Whether he flew off his bike into a steel pole, or fell out of a tree house head first, he almost never cried, and never for long. Pain just made him tougher. This didn’t mean he didn’t have a tender heart; it was just carefully guarded for the few he reserved it for. He took time to choose his values and friends, but once he did, he would give his life for them.
And so what else would this kind of boy do except grow into a young man that would pause his college education and join the Marines? Why else would he do it except to serve, and in his words “…be able to look back, and know that in some small way, I gave back.” And what else would he do at the end of his commitment except extend it to deploy again to Afghanistan? It was never about benefits or glory. It was always about serving in the unique way that soldiers do.
Towards the end of his active contract, he started to get sick. Intermittently sick. He did what Marines do, and soldiered on. He returned from overseas thinner, tougher, and more tired, and still getting intermittently sick. The military doctors said they couldn’t find anything wrong with him. He reluctantly decided not to re-up active duty. The Marine Sgt. chose non-active status, went back to college, and went back for more tests with the VA. And unpredictably, intermittently, he’d get sick. It usually started with headaches, his eyes being affected, then general weakness, incessant fatigue as though he hadn’t slept, muscle spasms, shaking, reduced appetite, occasional fevers, and often abdominal pain after eating. He lost more weight.
He went back to the military doctors in the VA for more tests. He was told there was nothing wrong with him. He struggled to maintain good grades and study, living a spartan lifestyle. He took a year off from school, this time to work a low stress job. Even that became difficult, but he’d drag himself to work even on the worst days. He quit the job to try to finish his degree, but when the class schedule was changed and impacted financial aid, he decided to work another year. Only by this time, he was so tired that many days he couldn’t seem to get himself out of his apartment to even look for a job. Finally, reluctantly, he let his parents know what was happening.
Come home, Son. Come home. Welcome home, and we will find a way to beat this thing. We respect you more than ever.
His pressed uniforms were carefully placed by him in a closet here, ready, in case they’re needed. You could try to take the Marine out of the man, but you won’t succeed. Any proud Marine mother would never want to try.
(The government is just acknowledging that what was formerly called Gulf War Syndrome, is apparently impacting Afghanistan vets also. It’s now called Chronic Multisymptom Illness. This is what I’m currently suspecting regarding the intermittent bouts of illness. It seems there’s still much official denial for the vets who have tried to get medical help, and I’ve read about vets jumping through a long process of hoops. I’m hoping for the best, and researching. My son, stoic as always, is quiet, uncomplaining, and fully Semper Fi.)