Twenty-one years ago, I walked a circle around an M1A1 tank, looking for loose bolts, worn track or broken torsion springs. Then I jump up on the turret and rearranged the equipment in the sponson box so I could get to what I thought I might need without having to expose much of my body to enemy fire. Then I cleaned my .45 for the third time that morning. My crew mates also went through their personal rituals. Two of the four of us weren’t old enough to have a beer at home. So we stacked ammunition and loaded extra magazines.
Twenty-one years ago, I was a high-school dropout serving in the Army to get away from a bad childhood. Everyone else joined up for their own reasons – some good, some noble, some just wanted to escape jail and others, like me just wanted to escape. The military served me well, better than the experience left some of my comrades.
My old roommate went to college and got a commission. He is a Major now. Two of my best friends from those days had a much harder time of it. One never came home. He lives in Texas with his parents, but he never came really came home. Another lives less than four hours away, he has had his struggles, but seems at peace with his life. My old driver, the man who didn’t dismount the tank once that I can recall from the time the first bullet flew until after the cease fire was called, seems happy with a great family.
What brought us to the sands of Saudi Arabia was a varied and twisted path for some. The experience there forged bonds stronger than many families. The men I served with made me become a better man.
One of those men was Spc. Clarence “Johnny” Cash. He served in our scout platoon. When I first enlisted and was sent to Germany, I wasn’t a very good soldier. I met Cash while drinking with some friends. He set an example and taught me a few things. Cash never came home from the desert.
We lost him in combat on February 27, 1991. The ground war ended the next day. I wish I had gotten to know him better. On the second to last day of February every year, I have a beer or a shot, sometimes both, and remember Cash and the others who didn’t come back, didn’t come back whole, or who never really came back.
God bless you, Cash and the others. We, the living and the returned, have a duty to which we must rise up to meet.
Nous resterons la.