I hope you are enjoying your barbecues and discount shopping this weekend America.
Crack open a cold one and turn your music up, it’s a three-day weekend! Never mind the reason for your day off; don’t let the somber nature of this holiday cast a shadow over your merriment. Go about your lives in the blissful ignorance that is so characteristic of our nation.
I cringe when you laud your latest hero, be it an athlete, socialite, or movie star. I have seen heroes and you cheapen the word with your misguided adulation. I don’t blame you for your ignorance, America. I spent the last 13 years of my life putting the enemies of our nation to the sword. You spent the last 13 years at the mall.
You will not find me celebrating or mourning this weekend. I do not need a special day to honor my brothers who have given their lives for our freedom; I see their faces every time I close my eyes. They haunt my dreams. I relive their final moments when I lay my head down at night and search for ways I could have saved them. I, and others like me, take this burden willingly so that you can sleep in peace and tell yourself that the boogeyman does not exist.
I only ask one thing America. Don’t thank me this weekend. This is not my holiday. Take some time this weekend to recognize the brave men and women that have died so that you can have your barbecues and festivities this weekend and remember their sacrifice. I do it every day. I wish I could explain to you how I feel but I cannot. How could I? I have seen and done things that you only experience in your nightmares. I walk amongst you now but we are not the same.
How can I explain to you what I feel? You ask me: why do you drink? Why do you fight? Why can’t you conform to the social mores we all adhere to? How can I explain to you how I felt as a young man, seeing my bloodstain the sun-scorched earth of Iraq, smelling gun powder and death filling my nostrils, seeing the broken bodies of my friends and foes around me. How can I explain to you that this was the last time I truly felt alive? How can I explain to you that the last time I truly felt at home was when I felt the reassuring touch of my brothers at my side and heard the comforting sound of a bolt being send home?
I don’t mourn my brothers. I wish they were still with me today but I know they died doing what they were meant to do. I honor their lives every day. I have tried so many times to explain to myself why they were taken instead of me and I must accept that I cannot. I can only wait. I can only clean my guns, and sharpen my knives, and hope that when my time comes I too can meet death with a smile on my face and steel in my heart as they did. I long for the time when I too can rest. One day I will join them. I both rejoice and lament that you will never understand how this feels. You will never know how sweet life tastes because life is sweetest when you have almost lost it.
Brothers, I salute you! I drink to you this night and yearn for the day when we will be together again. The wars we shared were terrible but I find myself lost in peace. Save me a seat in the longboat, I will see you again.
Baz Khan has served as a platoon commander and company commander in the United States Marine Corps’ Infantry and Reconnaissance communities for over a decade. He has deployed two times to Iraq and twice to Afghanistan. Baz was lucky enough to have a price put on his head in both Iraq and Afghanistan so he must be doing something right. He has a bachelor’s degree in English literature, is a military freefall parachutist, combatant diver, and Basic Reconnaissance Course graduate. He writes here in his capacity as a private individual, and his views are not those of the U.S. Marine Corps.
This first appeared in The Havok Journal on May 27, 2015.