by Joe Decree
This first appeared in Britta Reque-Dragicevic ‘s blog, “Life After War” on December 31, 2017, and is republished with permission.
We are back but we are not yet home.
We are inside the building but it is now unfamiliar.
Sand and heat are our familiar now. The smell of cordite, gunpowder, and C4.
We sweated in the crippling heat.
We fought the camel spiders.
We gave candy to the kids.
We watched villages burned; some from our bombs and some from theirs.
We closed with, we killed, we captured.
We tried to limit carnage. That is what you wanted of us. It was not in our best interest.
We died trying to honor your wish; physically, emotionally, even spiritually.
We fought under the flag you refuse to honor. We are buried beneath it.
We just wanted you to live life in your way.
But we are too different from you now. You can’t understand us.
We can’t go back. Not after what we have seen.
You won’t give us our due.
You show no real understanding.
You have no concept of honor.
You enjoy your delusions.
I guess I offend you too, just by my life.
The things you call life and freedom are vapor.
You waste your true lives and freedoms every day on vapor.
Lives and freedom many of us will no longer get.
We have killed people so you can enjoy your vapor-thick & artificial the way you like it.
Another funeral with a flag draped casket.
You protest that too.
You won’t even allow us our deaths.
In our despair, we build the walls.
My wife wants me to be normal.
I don’t know what that is anymore.
She’s really trying. I hurt for her.
I still love her on the days when I can feel love.
But I can’t let her see.
If I do I have not protected her from the horror or from what it did to me.
I don’t want to see either. That’s the real reason.
Needing to tell but not able to. That is my day.
Can you see me screaming inside? Past the phony smile?
My job is stupid. I went from leader of warriors to …whatever…
I just want to stop being so angry. Why does everything make me so angry?
It fuels my day.
And I want to stop hating you but you won’t let me.
You have made my life meaningless by your vapor worship.
You won’t leave me alone and you won’t help.
All I did is what you asked me too.
Being home is lonelier than being in the fight.
Where are my brothers that get me through this?
We did everything together.
I left them in the sand.
I buried them in Arlington.
I wander lost without them.
Who will understand now that they cannot?
Was the fight a waste? Or is just here a waste?
Is what you call life really alive?
No. It is vapor. There is no life in it.
You force me to try to fit into it.
Why was I spared? Why did I come home?
Oh God where are you? At the VA?
The hypocrites at church do not know you. Not really.
Not like I do.
We have been in battle together.
We have talked about things that are real.
You said you would be with me but I cannot find you now.
You were with me in the sandbox.
I can’t feel you here.
I can’t feel anything.
Eli Eli lama sabacthani.
We can’t figure it out. Why we have been left.
So we just kill ourselves.
But there is a glimmer.
A shaft of light.
One guy got through. The wall is breached.
He is damaged but still standing. Shot up but not shot down.
Someone holds open the breach for him.
God showed up.
He showed us the crack in our wall.
We built it to defend ourselves.
It will crush us under its own falling weight.
The tactical position is untenable.
First sergeant prepare the men to march. We move to light.
Darkness was our friend in battle. No more.
It haunts us.
The unfeeling darkness.
Move! Move! Move! Attack toward the light.
No one gets left.
You take his arm. I will take his pack.
Now I am outside the crumbling walls that fall in on themselves.
There is light!
Let there be light.
I see an unfamiliar man. Another lost soul.
He did not serve.
He is not a fighter. He is lost in the vapor.
I fought for him but he does not know how to live in freedom.
He is my new brother.
He is more broken than us because he has never really lived.
He does not understands what life is.
He only knows the heartbreak of the vapor.
I help him shoulder his pack filled with the fruits of non-life.
I fight for him again. I know life, and death.
I have been both.
I will show him.
I can show my remaining brothers too.
They are stuck in the rubble of the walls.
Clawing to get to the light.
We need a new weapon
It is forgiveness.
We must forgive the brothers who left us…to deal with gutters and mortgages.
We must forgive the others for the vaporous ridicule.
Their lack of understanding and honor.
We must forgive our family’s clumsy attempts to help.
We must forgive ourselves for living.
We must forgive the nation its schizophrenia about us.
We must forgive God for not killing us.
Well done. We can make it.
I show one and he shows another and that one another.
Iron sharpens iron. I am iron again.
I am a warrior again.
God is no longer on the horizon.
He is here.
He will fight with us again. Who can be against?
Never again darkness.
There is life again. Let there be life.
I tell my wife. She tries to understand.
She tries. She is a friend again.
I can feel love again.
First a flicker then a stream.
It shows me purpose.
There are many more out there.
Many are my old brothers from the war. Some are my new brothers escaping vapor.
They are wounded.
The mission is not over.
So am I.
But I heal. Never completely but enough.
They will too. I will show lead them.
Forgiveness and love.
Healing. God, love, forgiveness, light. Wholeness.
I still miss my brothers from the war. I can never truly leave them.
I will honor them by living. Not by the living death. Never that again.
I will fight. Others need my strength.
I am still a warrior.
I lived a warrior and will die as one.
Warrior-a man who stands for others with strength, honor, courage.
I am that still. I will be weak no more.
Charlie Mike. The mission continues.
There are many ways to fight. There are many enemies.
I will find them too.
They will rest no more.
Turn and plant your feet.
Square up to the darkness and face it.
No more hiding.
For the fight comes from the soul.
I still have a soul.
The soul of a warrior.
Damaged but not destroyed. Shot up but not shot down.
God, help me keep fighting.
I have buddies still out in the darkness.
Old buddies and new.
Give me a purpose worthy of a warrior.
This is what you made me for.
Now I am home.
–Joe DeCree, Major (Ret.), US Army
Green Beret 19th SFG (A)