Since this time last year (May 2012), I’ve been working on a book called Selfish Prayer. I am the ghostwriter, which means that I write another person’s story. That someone else is a member of the California National Guard, and served in Afghanistan in 2009 as a Medevac flight medic.
It’s been quite an education.
Previously my knowledge of the Armed Forces came from stories from my grandfather, a WWII veteran, a few conversations with my brother who fought in Panama in 1989, and the brief journey we endured with my son who went to Marine boot camp and came home early because of a medical discharge. I, like so many other Americans, hold a special place in my heart for the men and women who serve in the military. They have my respect, my support, and my gratitude.
But when a retired California Highway Patrolman who worked for my husband approached me about writing his story, I had no idea what lay in store.
My first exposure was to attend a speaking engagement to hear my client’s story. Wow – he recounted how he was lowered down from a helicopter in the midst of a fierce firefight to retrieve five wounded soldiers the age of his son and all those who were involved survived. He then loaded me up with newspaper clippings, magazines, pictures, and video that I spent the next year reviewing.
We conducted interviews with medics, crew chiefs, pilots, and doctors, flying to the southern states and driving countless miles on the west coast to hear their stories face to face.
I looked into their eyes and heard the inflections in their voices. Anger. Hurt. Bravery. Camaraderie. Love.
At times I had to swallow the lump in my throat, and other times I couldn’t hold back my tears as most of them wept as they shared their memories. They gave me pictures, camera footage, raw recollections, and felt comfortable enough to speak freely, sometimes taking me aback.
Since then, I’ve gained a new and deeper appreciation for those who’ve been to battle. Because once they got on that plane and headed to the war-torn fields of Iraq and Afghanistan, the war embedded itself into their souls. There were horrors to witness. There was blood shed by brothers they loved. There were injuries and deaths and decisions and injustice and boredom and shock and smells and sounds and hate and ego and misunderstandings. And it was packed into a year or so and that year will never leave them. It is permanently etched into the fabric of their being.
When they get on the plane to come back to US soil, they bring the war back to us here at home. They try not to. They try to keep it hidden in some compartmentalized nightmare within their minds. But it’s left an indelible mark upon their souls, and it permeates their personalities and separates them from those who love them. I pray we have the courage to bridge that separation that naturally occurs.
Tomorrow is Memorial Day, where we remember those who’ve fallen on the battlegrounds of wars past and present. Their blood was spilled for our freedom. We are grateful for their sacrifice.
This Memorial Day I am also mourning the losses of those whose hearts did not stop beating, but have lost just the same. There are many who lost limbs, lost recognition from burns, lost brothers they loved, and still more who lost their marriages, lost mental, emotional, and spiritual footing, and in many cases, left pieces of their souls on the battlefield. Those of us who are carrying on with life in safety and security seriously do not have a clue as to the sacrifices and loss they have experienced.
As for me, I’ve heard soldiers cry. I’ve shared the memories that dance just behind the darkness in their eyes. I know that when I wake up in the night, there are thousands of veterans who are reliving their war in their dreams in homes across America.
Veterans, alive and gone, it isn’t enough to say thank you. I acknowledge your sacrifice, and I pray for your healing, and for all that you’ve done (even the unimaginable), I am grateful for you.
Selfish Prayer: How California National Guard Changed the Face of Medevac Amidst Chaos, Carnage and Politics of War was released in August 2013. It is available for purchase via Amazon.com and is available in paperback and Ebook.
Victoria Newman - "A CHiP on My Shoulder" May 31st, 2016
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