11 November 2005
December 1974. I'm standing in a metal building on the side of a hill, and "heat" is a concept I'm trying to put out of my mind. There's no snow yet, but the wind is blowing about 35 mph from the frozen North, and I've already been advised to keep the water running, lest the pipes freeze. "Water," in this context, refers to the utility sink; there is no actual latrine. Fortunately, there is lots to do, and as the ancient mimeograph spins, the temperature rises a degree or so. A couple of hours, and I'll have all these orders finished and out to distribution.
The Army considered this post a "hardship" tour: one year, generally, and don't even think about bringing your dependents. In 1974, though, there were plenty of other soldiers who were enduring far greater hardships than I was. And while my job was much shorter on dramatic potential I had a weapon, but it was unlikely I'd be called upon to use it, even on guard duty I knew we were all in this together, whatever "this" happened to be. "When the time comes," Sergeant Irions had said, "we're all Eleven Bravo."
Three decades later, that phrase still sticks in my mind. We all had our specialties I had been a 71B clerk, then got spun off into 75C personnel management but if the barbarians actually showed up at the gate, I wouldn't be fighting them with a typewriter: ol' Seventy-Five Charlie would be toting a rifle with the rest of them.
At that time, I'd had a weapon pointed at me just once: by the Italians, at Fiumicino Airport in Rome. The Carabinieri were waiting for our Pan Am flight, and ordered us off the premises; I later heard that someone had phoned in a bomb threat to FCO, and all incoming flights were getting similar treatment. I wasn't exactly thrilled, but I didn't panic, and that memory was worth something as I loaded more paper into the mimeo and fought off a shiver.
It's still worth something today, thirty years after I left the Middle East, eighty-seven years after the Armistice that ended the World War. (Little did anyone suspect in 1918 that there would soon be another World War, worse than the first.) Fear, left unchecked, eats the soul. The soldier acknowledges that fear, and presses on regardless. For that, and for so much more, we thank him on this day.Posted at 9:31 AM to General Disinterest
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