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Oh to step back, past that moment in time, when freedom was much freer…and those mighty towers still cast shadows and defined the profile of that city…when tomorrows were just the days after this one, and not just so many days or weeks; some measure of time since 9/11/2001.

wtc

On September tenth, there was merely the anticipation of autumn…simply the fading of summer’s embers, but the shadows were still long.

It was about looking forward to ‘’The Series”, debating who would go the yard…and who might fall victim to a slider going 98 and dropping like a rock.

September tenth was the day before my father was born…at least 68 years earlier
something wonderful had happened on 9-11.  They were hard times to be sure, but simpler and more innocent times as well.

Since 1992, the World Trade Center was but a wondrous place that I had visited, and I had stood on the roof of one of the twin icons. Movies based in modern New York City always featured the towers in that distinctive skyline. After that September 10th, any movies that included the towers were instantly dated as “pre 9-11.”

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On September tenth, a line in time had yet to be drawn. Like the sixth of December in 1941, the tenth was but a prelude to another day that would change our world forever and redefine our entire existence. But in 1941, our enemies were more clearly defined and not too hard to find. Indeed, I long for the simplicity that prevailed still on September the tenth of 2001…

Then, we still slept soundly at night, not yet needing to know who had stolen away our naïve sense of trust and security…our knowing that tomorrow will be just another day. Memories of scud missiles, Desert Storm, the unbreakable coalition, stealth fighters and the last “just war” with ‘Stormin’ Norman’ at the helm, were nearly fading from our immediate memories.

On September tenth, we were oblivious to upcoming new buzzwords, like Flights 11, 77, 175, and 93…There was no ground zero, no mention of a north and south tower. Al Qaida and Osama bin Laden were minor players; irritants at best…but still in the wings, not yet the epitome of evil reincarnated.  The armor worn by our existing heroes showed a little patina; their deeds were a little dusty and the tales of those heroics had not recently been retold.

It was good… to be complacent and free of drama, fresh news footage, of a running total of sorties flown, of the billions approved by congress, of bunker busting behemoth bombs, of cadaver dogs, of no more survivors…images we could never have fathomed…of a loss of certainty in the world around us.  It was a simpler time…

On September the tenth, we were bored; we were anticipating the turning of the leaves, the last good days for boating, the return of Monday night football, and of kids returning to the halls.

And perhaps we took for granted the knowing we all would be coming home at the end of the day, maybe neglecting a parting hug, the obligatory peck on the cheek. And the uttering of a simple “I love you” might have been a little hollow, a little bit routine.

We weren’t as close to our neighbors on the tenth, as quick to notice a passing stranger and to smile at one another, eager to embrace the day.  We weren’t as apt to fight back tears when the flag was unfurled and a voice bathed the crowd in the beauty of the words of Francis Scott Key.

I still loved you on the tenth, but I might not have felt compelled to say so. It just never occurred to me that once I laid my head on the pillow, it would be the last night I would close my eyes without the possibility of visions of events of that day, and those that followed, filling my weary mind…of those stark surreal images that will mark this generation from that day forward.
On the tenth, our villains were whoever had taken our parking spot… the cop who cited you for going ten over while you hurried, nearly late to work… the team that’d last defeated yours. Our villains could still be easily found among us, as petty bickering and dissent among the ranks prevailed. On that tenth of September, we weren’t as united, not
as much in need and appreciation of one another as we soon would be.

And on that morning I didn’t wake you when I’d slipped out quietly on my way to work. While you lay there sleeping, I neglected to touch your cheek, to kiss your hair and went off not knowing that I would already be missing you five minutes down the road. The day that followed gave that gift back to us, and to me.

I had never uttered the words “nine-eleven” nor imagined the sight of tear-streaked ashen faces…or the “confetti of the anti-Christ,” as countless reams of paper took leave of the stricken buildings through shattered window panes, marking the end to peaceful sleep as it came fluttering down ultimately to street level in an agonizing confusing descent, dragging our hearts down with it…a metaphor of biblical proportions left to linger in mid-air, along with the accompanying dust and smoke, long after the sight of those blazing towers had become a part of the horror there on the ground…then a part
of the ground itself…a would-be grave in wait of the coming fill.

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On the tenth, I was a little euphoric and foolishly feeling secure. I didn’t love as deeply or unconditionally as I soon would. Nor did I notice as readily the good in the world that still prevailed. I was more at ease, but not as good a person, friend, neighbor, brother, or son, as I soon would be. I never wanted what happened next, but I am a more complete and worthy soul because of, and more importantly, in spite of the cumulative effects of the next days of events.
You might actually say, the day after the tenth found us scattered and nearly shattered by the work of the devil himself, but we were quickly gathered once more by the need for one another as we huddled together in disbelief…bound together again by the grace of God…mercifully lifted up as one in our hour of dire need.
I miss the bliss that came along with the tenth of that September, but I like camaraderie and oneness that found the collective lot of us in the days that followed.

Matthew Lyle Landsman

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I was barely shaving when I left home, had barely been kissed before I
shipped out. I missed that whole part where one has fun growing up. I
sorta skipped over it and learned how to be a part of the team, the
solution, the big stick some fellas back in Washington like to use to
get their point across.
God, I’m tired…I’m way too young to have grown so old. And I wonder; can I ever really go home?

What am I to do when I get home? I haven’t been anywhere without my
pack, flak jacket, desert fatigues; rifle and sidearm, bandoleer and
ammo, for over a year. Gone anywhere without a hyperactive awareness of
looming death. I haven’t walked a block without a possibility that I
may have to take a life to survive walking another, for far too long.

What am I gonna do with all that quiet keeping me awake at night. I
fear the thunder of a kid’s 4000 watt stereo in his tuner car will be
reminiscent of artillery and the battle raging.

What am I to do on the fourth of July when the flags are raised,
burgers are grilling, and fireworks are exploding? Will I go back to a
place where death was abound? Will I be lost in the moments that might
never pass, in a state of confusion you won’t understand?

Who will I turn to when my squad is no longer at my side? Who will have
my back when the nightmares find me back in the midst of the fight, the
smoking charred HumVees, melted roadways and broken souls? Will I ever
feel at home again after living in this impossible hell? Will I hear
the sounds of the departing, the prayers and confessions that were
desperately offered up while the shit was going down?

And will people sense and resent the places I’ve been, the things duty
had me do, the horror I’ve witnessed and been a part of? Will they
sense the disregard for life I had to adopt for extended periods, the
instinct to survive and protect my fellow compatriots first? It was
just my mission…Will they sense what I’ve gleaned and will it be
misunderstood?

And what about the loss of trust in those around me? That luxury was
lost about the time I watched a morning market transformed to a scene
of slaughtered innocents without prejudice or regard. Exploding cars
are indiscriminate and callous. You just can’t imagine, even after
seeing the footage on CNN. There may have been survivors after the
smoke cleared, but even they were victims of what will prove to be
impossible to comprehend. I know I’ll never be the same. Nor will
mornings ever be the same…

I’m gonna need a place to lean, some souls that know the score. I’m so
full of what I hadn’t imagined, what I never really wanted to know. I’m
gonna feel the thump of artillery rounds, when it ravages the air and
assaults the ground. I’m gonna smell the smell of smoking rounds as the
lead takes leave of the barrel and a rainfall of hot brass makes a
spattered puddle of death around my feet. I’m gonna be filled with the
scents of fear that have surrounded me as a sense of fear enveloped me
and those brave souls that have lived, fought, and died all around me.

I’m gonna want to talk about it, gonna need to cry out loud, gonna have
to hold it in, gonna fight to keep it together. I’m a little afraid I
might feel this way forever, but it’s not the way I want to feel again,
ever.

I’m thinking, always thinking. Dreaming, sometimes wake up screaming. I
wonder who’s gonna want to share my room, who’s gonna have enough heart
to help me rediscover my dreams.

And I wonder if I’ll ever be able to stand the feel of gritty hot sand.
Sand belongs at the beach, in memories of childhood summers…now it has
become the stuff that stole my childhood, took away the joy I’d kept
inside. I know I’ve been fortunate to have escaped with my life, but in
truth, the life I lived before I deployed escaped the second I stepped
off that plane. The life I’ll live with has been unfolding in front of
me, and in the midst of this bedlam; lives have unraveled and been
shattered. Folks have been robbed of everything that mattered. Oh I
know this is the stuff that war is made of, but I never imagined that
same stuff would become an anchor within my mind and a shard of
lingered hurt in the heart in me.

To be sure, I’ve made some of the tightest friends over here, and I
hope we don’t simply wind up scattered in life’s wind. They’re the only
ones that will truly always understand…so I hope we’ll somehow manage
to keep in touch.

But I’m also gonna need some other special souls to reintroduce me to
the world at home. Some to hold me when I cry. I’m gonna need all of
you to be there when I get back. I need to feel your thanks, your
patience, and your willingness to accept there will always be some
things you won’t understand. And your wisdom to help me deal with parts
I won’t ever understand.

And please, be a good soul and keep in mind that the most painful and
misunderstood injuries can be ones that never break the skin. The most
decimated souls might be the ones with no outward sign of wounds at
all. Don’t forget that in war, we all become casualties, but some of us
aren’t fortunate enough to carry scars you all can see that make the
damage easier to accept and understand.

I only carried the weapon, the pack, the body armor and helmet for four
years, but I’m going to have to carry the residue of service to my
country forever. Discharge papers don’t wipe the slate or the memory
clean, but they might make a lot of folks at home forget to take care
of those who gave and keep giving so much to take care of them. I was
there for you in your hours of need, please be there when mine
arrive…I’ll be back presently, please see to it I find myself a home at
home.

Matthew Lyle Landsman
June 2008.

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I heard about a good old boy sheriff named Joe in Maricopa County
Arizona. Got himself an idea to save tax dollars and put some bad guys
to work to save that money. Makes those criminals grow veggies and
hogs, and take care of stray critters till someone takes them home.
These tough guys are living behind barbed wire with just fans to keep
‘em cool in a lot of sun-baked tents. So hot them rugged desperados
gotta strip down to boxers and socks to make it livable. Seems them
misguided souls are getting’ to thinking this is inhumane treatment and
a lot of pity parties are being thrown behind the bar-less crowbar
hotel in the midst of all that cactus.

I got a few thoughts to help the poor incarcerated lot of you out in
your hour of need. SHUT THE HELL UP, CRIMINALS! This is your punishment
for screwing up, so suck it up and be a man. There are folks over here
been doing time in this war zone for years now. Three, four tours in
REAL heat. Not resort heat like you pansies lounge in. They don’t worry
a whole lot about strutting and representing like you sorry little gang
bangers in your summer camp. These folks get to wear full battle gear
day and night, get to worry about a population full of psycho suicide
tendencied jihad driven madmen. My fellow compatriots left spouses at
home, kids, folks, pets, real jobs, and a country full of grateful
citizens. And here’s the best part. These are bullet dodging, do
anything they’re asked without whining or flinching warriors…and a
whole lot of these real tough guys are GALS! And they aren’t being
punished for crimes. They are just volunteers with more balls than you
pathetic repeat offenders. And here’s the clincher…Some of these gals
and guys have no idea when they’ll see home again. Some of them will
only go home after they have given their all and make the last part of
the journey under a flag.

You punks cry for your mothers when the nights get long while you’re
doin’ time. I can tell you some of my fellow volunteers were calling
for their daddies and moms when the blood was flowing and their hope
was fading. But these gallant men and women in arms weren’t going to
lose their dignity even in the face of death.

You could learn a great deal from even the slightest of these brave
souls. All of you. Trust me, 120 degrees might as well be 200 when the
flack jacket is filled with sweat, boots are baked feet in hot sand
ovens. Then throw in firefights, incoming mortars, suicide bombers,
roadside bombs and a culture that looks down on our women. That is
heat.

So grow a set, convicts. ALL of us over here already had ours long
before we stepped off the planes, and some of us are better known as
‘mommy’ back home.

Give ‘em hell, Joe in Arizona, and tell the campers we’re over here
fighting ‘cause they are otherwise unavailable to step up and lend us a
hand.

Signed, the true tough guys and gals here in Afghanistan and Iraq.

A tribute to our armed forces…by Matthew Landsman

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This essay was written about my nephew and his craft. He served in Iraq starting in ’03 when this war started.

I’m a Marine scout sniper…I am the best of the best, the mightiest wielder of unseen decisive actions known. I am a physical specimen. I can out-run you, out-think you, out-wait you, and out-gun you. I am a chosen one without peer, except among my own kind serving under the stars and stripes.

I will sacrifice sleep, comfort, weight, my youth, my innocence…And I will also gladly sacrifice you, without hesitation, remorse, or regret. When you leave the bounds of this good earth, a lot of my brothers in arms will be given a little breathing room and maybe live to see another day. It’s my job to see you don’t get to do your job.

There is a song by The Police called “I’ll Be Watching You”…it includes the lines:

Every move you make…
Every step you take…
I’ll be watching you…

And while I do, I will be in plain sight, but you won’t see me. I will remain motionless for as long as need be, for days, literally. I will rest when you are over. I know your patterns, your role, and your reason for being where you are, for what you do there. I won’t think about your home, your family, your past, your dreams, aspirations or plans for the future. I hold you in contempt and do so with a strong degree of malice. When I do what I do best, you will cease to have a future, and your past won’t matter a whole lot either. While I seal your fate, I’m protecting the fate of my brothers.

In silent wait, I know your intentions and your potential to reduce the ranks of my compadres. In quiet vigil I will think only of my brothers you won’t get the chance to harm. I can do this in my sleep now as months of training guide my fingers, my eyes, still my hands, steady my ragged breath. I have been awake here for fifty six hours. I’ll catch up on my sleep after I canoe your head…For now, I’m pissed off, but completely objective. I scarcely have to think as I exchange words with the brass, get readings of wind headings and speeds, of distances and all things relevant to the success of your demise. I will load one very convincing round into the chamber of my rifle. I will adjust five clicks clockwise to fight the wind, six for elevation…compensation for variables between my deciding hand, and your impending doom. I will do it all very deliberately and carefully, for the love of my brothers relying on me here, for my dedication to The Corp, to duty and honor. I will impose my will on you, before you do the same upon me and mine. Day or night, I will peer at you through a long eye of glass. There are other names for your death here at my end; The M-40A1 rifle, my unerring hand, impeccable aim, and undeniable will.

Whether you like it or not, the hand of the angel Gabriel is encompassing my trigger finger. We will have the final say and you will soon have taken your final breath, watched your last sunset, smelled your last smell, had your last thought, and fulfilled your last bad intention. In a few moments, it will be good to be me, and, well…it will have been bad to be you.

In a strange way, I am the answer to your prayers. You look forward to meeting your God, and I am about to see to it that can happen real soon. You ought to be thanking me really. I am your deliverer. Personally, I don’t care whether you have a soul or not, or where it’s going if you do. I care so much that I care not. I am about to deliver 168 grains of uncaring and very prejudicial finality, put in motion by 46 grains of quick burning furious commotion, to a place better known as ‘center mass’. Don’t worry though; lightening will strike long before the report is heard by anyone.

It’s me or it’s you. I think you’ll soon know who I decided will be going home at the end of the day. “One shot, one kill”. You aren’t worth wasting a second round on…and hey, I got my pride…

I’m taking your life to save the lives of others. It ain’t personal. I’m a Marine scout sniper, and in just a second…and about six hundred yards…ah hell, it took less time than that and it’s already over. You’ve stopped being whatever you may have been. To hell with you…I gotta get on with my job. I have more lives to ‘save’…Semper Fi.

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(In honor of my Tia Terry…and her son the Marine veteran)

My son is a Marine; retired now from active duty, but he’ll always be a Marine. I sent my boy off to boot camp shortly after he hung up his cap and gown and put away his childhood. The day he shipped out, my life changed too. I was proud and flew flags above my home to let the world know those in my household were proud of the US of A, and that our boy was a US Marine.

Going along with that territory, is the innate fear that war will happen, and that my prayers will have to be answered across an ocean, and a world away. There’s no other experience to match that which comes with the call that he’s shipping out and off to war. I grew a week older with each day, knowing only that it would soon begin…regardless of whose fight was about to be fought, this was to become “our war”, both his and mine.

When I dusted off his photos of high school wrestling, of grade school innocence, of any day from any age that has passed…I knew THAT boy wouldn’t be coming home. In his place I would receive a veteran combat Marine…but then, I, his mother will also have changed. Some things would be similar, but not much will be as it was. A lot will be better; less will be taken for granted.

While the front line was wherever he happened to be, as he and the rest of the Corp would bring the fight with them, I had only CNN and the internet, as the letters slowly dwindled and left me to just the news, my imagination, and simple faith in his training. In knowing the Good Lord would look out for those who look out for what is good and nearer to Godliness.

Perhaps your son may have been off to do battle on a local paintball range at the edge of town, to dive and duck, scheme and scam. He may have come home with a spattered shirt, a bruise on an arm, rib, and ego. His paint gun may have run out of air or balls of paint ammo. But there was no chance he’d ever run out of time…of blood, hope, of life. There is no similarity to those foolish games, not even for an instance. Some wounds can’t heal, and when it’s real, it won’t come out in the wash.

When things go wrong in that desert so far from home, some like me get a knock on their door, and only a folded flag to hold for ever more. I did get my Marine son home safely, but he was now a veteran of combat, a Marine who had been to a place only he and others with him there could know.

I don’t know what he saw, what he heard, what he smelled, what he felt. I don’t know what he carries on his shoulders now that he put away his backpack, his weapons, his duty, and his craft away. He doesn’t really talk about it. It was war. I know what happens…some boys don’t get to live on, so the rest will be able to. Regardless of which side you are on, there are mothers fearing for the worst, staying close to the phone, feeling a twinge even when the television emits the sound of a knock on a door.

And while my vocabulary grew with the terms of war, my list of prayers did too, as did my knowledge of chapters of scripture. I got to know of community support and gratitude for our sacrifices. I was far too far from my son, but closer to God and those who joined me in support and prayer.

While he was gone for so many months, I became a combat veteran too. But while only he witnessed the brutality and faced the challenges of mortality first hand, I faced the horror through not knowing, through the deafening silence when a phone doesn’t ring, when the mailbox fails to bring a letter with that familiar half mile long return address of military alphabet soup.

When I see footage of a unit shipping out, a family on a tarmac or in an airport with flags and banners in hand…I will fight off that lump in the throat, that knowledge that only a military mother can know, the pride, the waiting, the jubilation, the certainty of uncertainty…and I’ll go back, and look on knowingly…

 

It’s what I DON’T know that will find me knowing, that even though he is home again, for me, the war will never really end. I fear what those hours between midnight and dawn might bring…when he’s alone with his thoughts, his memories, the metaphoric gear he’ll always carry on those shoulders, the duffel bag and boots filled with hot sand, sleepless nights…things he’ll not likely share. I only know how much it changed me…

 

 

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I turned twenty one in the desert of Iraq. When you turned twenty one
you spent the night resting on your laurels while hanging out with your
family and friends. I was mostly alone except for my new family of
brothers in arms. (My brothers from a lot of other mothers)…I was
leaning hard on a dog eared birthday letter from home. And while you
were tipping back something cold on the rocks, for as far as the eye
could see, the only something cold on the rocks that lonesome night was
me and my fellow protectors of your freedom back home. While you and
your friends were lining up shots on the bar, my unit and I were lining
up our sights to take shots at others who were doing pretty much the
same thing to us. No fear of a hangover here…no celebrating either,
except a prayer of thanks at dawn after the lot of us had lived through
the night. No one carded me that night, we have dog tags here on the
front…but you don’t want to go there. Happy birthday? Whatever…You keep
your chin up, while I keep my head down…

I spent a second Christmas in the desolation of this desert. While you
hung your stockings on the chimney with care, and you and your kids
were nestled snug in your beds, longing for a white Christmas and
waiting for jolly Saint Nick, I was fighting for a few minute’s rest
for the first time in nearly two weeks worth of endless battle filled
days. My ‘bed’, as it was, was a shallow hollow I dug with the bill of
my helmet. The only stockings hung out are the ones I just washed after
wearing them for far too many days. There’s not a snowball’s chance in
hell for a white Christmas here. This year the only thing falling from
the sky around here was incoming rounds, and the blowing sand. While
carolers might have stood on the walk outside your door and sung a
chorus of ‘sleep in heavenly peace’ and ‘silent night, our hosts
serenaded us with one verse after another from their doctrine of
jihad…and we heard a less than heavenly version of gunpowder thunder
while we remained awake and dead on our feet in the middle of this
hell. This war. They say Jesus was born on Christmas…I was with a lot
of boys who found religion sometime during that fire fight. But I think
a couple of them actually went home with God somewhere along the
way…they don’t have to worry about turning twenty one in the desert.
One was nineteen, the other twenty. But they won’t be getting any
older. There will be volleys from seven solemn troops gathered there on
a hill when they lay them down for good. Three times they will fire
toward that sky for a salute of twenty one. Taps will be played
afterward…and a flag will be folded, presented, and thanks will be
given on behalf of a grateful nation. The stars and stripes will be
christened with a mother’s tears.
Merry Christmas? Whatever, you listen for little hooves on the roof, while I keep my head down.

While a housewife back home drove her nine mile per gallon Hummer to
wait in line for a four dollar coffee at Starbucks…she was on her cell
phone talking about the rising price of gasoline and pretty much
everything else. Let me tell you what I was doing just about then…I was
watching the remains of what had been our military Hum Vee just moments
earlier, burn to the ground. I was thinking how I couldn’t find my
buddy who had taken the brunt of the blast, who had unwittingly saved
my life just by sitting on the wrong side…While some cowardly soul had
dialed a cell phone to trigger an IED left buried in the side of the
road, the very road we fight to protect.

And so far from home, far removed from the debate of whether this
is a justified war or not, an oil war or not…Ours is not to second
guess, to question the validity. Ours is to follow orders. And while
you at home debate the justification for why my compadres and I are
here, we are justifiably scared, and really are dying and getting
gravely injured over here. We only think about the cost in the blood of
our brothers and sisters…About the cost of it all as we wondered if
we would ever again look across the breakfast table and drink another
cup of our mother’s no frills coffee. Without having uttered a word, it
is unanimous that we’d all give anything for a ride home about now…then
the sad truth becomes apparent… that the man on my right has earned his
ride home…and his mother will never drink another cup of coffee at her
table without looking at the folded flag gracing her mantle…at the
empty chair that her boy had filled for so many mornings of his first
twenty years. And while dust accumulates on his childhood memorabilia,
there will be no fading of the stark reality that will cry out the
glaring absence of his being for the rest of her part of forever. All
he wanted was to make her proud. All he bargained on was one weekend a
month and a part of the next few summers. All he asked in return was a
chance to go to school, a chance to enjoy the freedom he wound up dying
to preserve. Whether you agree with the policies of his Commander in
Chief or not, that young man is still just as dead…and his
compatriots remain far from home and in harm’s way, getting wounded,
and making the ultimate sacrifice. War has no opinion of its own
righteousness, only the finality of its effect on the mortality of its
participants and the bystanders…

….A tribute to the men and ladies of our armed forces…Matthew Landsman Summer 2008

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