“Thanks for your service.”
Maybe we have done a better job of showing appreciation to the members of the armed forces who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan than we did for those who served in Vietnam. Some opponents of that war made many Vietnam veterans feel that coming home was like leaving one war only to be thrown into another.
But today’s “Thank you for your service,” is not substantially better, as far as some at Afghanistan-Iraq veterans are concerned.
They can be forgiven if they think “Thank you for your service” is an incomplete thank you, an insincere and hollow expression, showing a lack of understanding and real appreciation of what these men and women had been through.
We have to confess that we know very little about what our troops have done at the individual level. How can we appreciate what they have done, if we have no idea about their real experiences?
For those who care and for those who want to know more, there is help in a new book of stories, “Redeployment,” by Iraq veteran Phil Klay.
In 12 short stories Klay lets his readers live vicariously through different people’s in-country experiences and the challenges they face upon their return home.
In the title story, “Redeployment,” a Marine, newly-returned to Camp Lejeune, compares a shopping trip to Wilmington to his recent high-risk, attention-demanding patrol down the streets of a city in Iraq.
“FARG0” brings its reader into the bloody, dangerous job of clearing insurgents in a city block, house by house, dead insurgent by dead insurgent, wounded Marine by wounded Marine.
In “After Action Report,” a lance corporal takes responsibility, credit or blame, for killing a youthful Iraqi insurgent. He tries to prevent the burden of the killing from destroying one of his men.
In “Bodies,” we learn the mechanics handling the corpses of Marines and insurgents. Then, we see and feel how these experiences destroyed the narrator’s relationship with the only girl he ever loved.
In “OIF” (Operation Iraqi Freedom) the narrator is a Marine paymaster, a non-combat, relatively safe role. But on his way to distribute funds, an explosive device destroys the armored vehicle, wounds him, and kills his assistant. The medals he receives are irrelevant, he feels, compared to his important designation WIA, wounded in action, not the KIA designation for his dead assistant.
In what the “Washington Post” calls the book’s “richest and most realized” story, “Money As a Weapons System,” a civilian economic development officer comes to understand how most of the aid he directs goes to corruption and waste.
In “Prayer in the Furnace,” the reader must step into the uneasy shoes of a Marine chaplain. After his expressions of concern about the unconscionable conduct of some officers and policies are ignored, he accommodates uncomfortably the realities of war.
“Psychological Operations”, though dismissed by a reviewer for the Guardian, was one of my favorites. A returning vet enrolls at Amherst College where he meets another one of the few black students there. She challenges his participation in the war. He tells her with a combination of pride and shame how he tricked a group of insurgents into their death. His loudspeaker messages falsely asserting that his Marines were sexually humiliating the insurgents’ wives, daughters and sister, provoke them to charge out of their safe hiding places into certain death of Marine Corps firepower.
In “War Stories,” a wounded vet’s face is so severely mangled that he knows he will never again be able to pick up a beautiful woman in a bar.
In “Unless It’s a Sucking Chest Wound,” a Marine veteran follows the struggles of his former Marine colleagues while he wrestles with the temptation of joining a high paying job as a lawyer in a high-pressure New York law firm.
An artillery gunner in “Ten Kliks South” agonizes the uncertain results of his unit’s barrage on a distant target, not knowing whether to celebrate or be ashamed of the likely resulting deaths.
After you’ve read a few of these stories, your “Thank Yous” to veterans will be even more heart felt and sincere.