Some of my favorite memories are of listening to grandfathers on both sides of my family tell stories about their experiences in the world wars. My grandfather who served in the army told me of a time he and another couple soldiers were charged with delivering information to a superior. They had heard reports of Germans in the area and when they came to a crossroads, Grandpa and his fellows opted to split up to increase their odds that one group might make it through. A little later down the road, Grandpa said he heard gunfire from the opposite direction. He never saw either of his friends again.
As I imagine most other young boys do, I often wondered what it would be like to go to war. How would it change me and what things might I see? I grew up believing each generation had its war and questioned where and when mine would be.
I received the answer to that on September 11, 2001.
I was a freshman at Ball State University and asleep when the first tower was hit. My roommate woke me up and told me what had just happened.
I didn't believe him. Rolled over and tried going back to sleep.
He literally dragged me out of bed and forced me to look at the TV just before the second plane hit. That whole day seems just a few weeks ago. I can still picture the other guys who lived on my floor huddled around a TV in the study lounge. Hear the whispered rumors of a draft to come. Some guys wanted to leave school and enlist. Others, like me, wondered if this would be it. The start of our war. I recall thinking if there was a draft, and my number called, I would go.
But that's easy to think about. Even easier to say you would go if it came to a draft.
It's another thing to actually do.
I once read Tolkien began work on his Middle Earth books, specifically The Hobbit, while he served in WWI. Even now, I can hear the exchange between two of his characters, Gandalf and Bilbo Baggins.
Gandalf: You'll have a tale, or two, to tell when you come back.
Bilbo: Can you promise that I will come back?
Gandalf: No. And if you do, you'll not be the same.
I am still the same because I never had to serve.
Others, far nobler than I, took my place. And while a part of me will always wonder what it must be like to partake in a war, a larger part is thankful I didn't have to. Thankful there were others who stood to post in my stead, (and for those who continue to stand), so that I might write stories about brave characters like them.
Thank you, veterans, for all that you do and have done. For the freedoms you provide, the safety you guarantee, and for serving the needs of others.
Author. Actor. Rascal.