For Veteran’s Day

In November of 2003 I had the privilege of attending my nephew Jeremy’s graduation from Marine Corps Boot Camp in San Diego.  This was my first up close and personal experience with the military.  The occasion helped clarify for me my appreciation and the blessing of being a citizen of the United States of America. 

There may be a stereotypical Marine Corps candidate, but there is no stereotypical crowd attending the graduation of a Private First Class. As the reviewing stands filled with people, I saw they were as varied a group as the line at the DMV on any given Monday.  The decision of one son, husband, brother, boyfriend or nephew had a far-reaching effect on scores of different people.
Standing with my  brother, his wife and our extended family, I surveyed the crowd.

There were silver-haired grandparents in matching His and Hers golf shirts, sun-tanned, blond-haired men and women wearing shorts and flip-flops.  I saw young brides in tight, short skirts, couples in their mid-30’s  in cotton shirts and khaki pants, with school-age children in tow.  Fifty year old hippies, sporting Birkenstock sandals and tie-dyed shirts stood in the crowd.

If wardrobe were any indicator, it was fairly clear we were a well-rounded representation of society.   As I sat in the bleachers that morning, my heart swelling with joy, I marveled at the thousand plus hearts and minds celebrating this occasion.

As varied as we all were (at least on the surface), we were joined by a common thread, related somehow to one single, sure Marine who decided to tackle the daunting challenge of service, sacrifice and discipline.  The decision of each young man to be one of “the few and the proud” had a very equalizing effect on us all.

I thought about this “ripple effect” that afternoon during a walk along the beach, collecting rocks washed over by the waves.  They lay in small pockets of smooth sand, reflecting the late afternoon sun, glistening with deep, rich colors of iron red, black and brown. 
As the water advanced and receded time and again, the ripple pattern was different around each polished stone.  It was clear where each rock lay because of the indent in the sand and the small pool of water it displaced.  One small rock next to several small rocks, joined by scores of other rocks…..on the shore they made an impressive display from a distance. 

Throw a pebble in a stream, you have a small ripple. Drop a boulder in and you have a wave.  Each action or decision creates a result that effects everything that wave will touch.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
 One year later the collective joy of my family was touched and almost destroyed, this time with heart-wrenching pain.  Back home in Seattle now, we received the news after Christmas Eve church service from my sister in law.  Jeremy (Corporal now, and Squad Leader) was stationed at Taqaddum Airbase in Iraq. His team was on road patrol and as they traveled, he in the communications seat of the vehicle along with a gunner, a driver and an interpreter, an IED went off underneath the Humvee in which they were traveling. Jeremy was badly injured with significant burns on both hands and a severe concussion.

I remember very clearly standing around my brother in the foyer of the church as he struggled to listen to the phone.  When David hung up, the news spread throughout the church members and to family in late night phone calls; we were all connected in pain and concern.  There was that ripple effect again.
 I remember being in shock and as we stood and prayed with my brother Dave. “Dear God, we’ve asked for Jeremy’s protection—why did this happen?”
And the answer was very clear—he WAS being protected.  His injuries could have been much worse—those bombs can permanently maim and even kill.  By the grace of God, he escaped with only surface burns to his hands, and no loss of feeling or nerve damage.

After being sent to a surgical unit in Iraq, Jeremy went to a US Base in Ramstein Germany. After his care there, he left with new clothes on his back (his had been burned, right down to the wallet and his debit cards), and a backpack with toiletries and gifts from the Wounded WarriorProject.

Jeremy returned to the U.S. where he received physical therapy at Brooks  Hospital in San Antonio, Texas (and where he met the President Bush.)  His healing has been excruciating but nothing short of miraculous, as doctors have testified. The skin graft they thought he’d need on his right hand wasn’t necessary because the skin regenerated more quickly than expected. 

The unseen effects of his injuries are those he struggles with now—Traumatic Brain Injury which causes severe headaches, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  He has been to the bottom and is coming back up. My brother and wife, our extended family, all of us have lived through times of fears about his recovery and worry for his future.

Jeremy and Amaleah Graham
It is looking brighter all the time. He was married in April 2012 (I wrote about that here) and his new wife is ‘the best thing that ever happened to me,’ he says.
If you were to ask Jeremy about his decision to become a Marine,  he wouldn’t  hesitate a second. What does he talk about the most?  How much he misses his squad and how he wants them to know he’s being well cared for. They’re all connected in ways only he understands, closer than family, he’s said.  
Family–there’s that ripple again.
No one joins the Marines alone.
~~~~~~~~~~~
I was honored to have been one of the writers included in ‘Bombshells: War Stories and Poems by Women on the Homefront’, where this piece first appeared.
Linking with Laura for Playdates and
Michelle over at Hear it on Sunday
More great reads over there. 

2 thoughts on “For Veteran’s Day

  1. Thank you for sharing this story, Jody. Wow. Our service men and women give so much. I'm so thankful that Jeremy is recovering but I know all too well the emotional scars such an experience can leave. Praying for your nephew and all those impacted in such devastating ways.

    Like

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