Posts Tagged ‘US Marines’

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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