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 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.
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.
Family–there’s that ripple again.
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.