In June of 1993, 18-year-old me left for Marine Corps boot camp in lovely and exotic Parris Island, SC…two-weeks after high-school graduation. Like so many before me, I was filled to the brim with patriotism and testosterone, eager to serve my country and, if necessary, die for it. Through either youthful exuberance or military brainwashing, I fantasized about fighting wars on foreign shores and possibly dying a “glorious” death on the battlefield. Every fiber of my being wanted to experience the adrenaline of war and to feel the raw, unbridled emotion of killing or fighting to avoid being killed. To put my manhood to the test. To see how I would react when the shit really hit the fan. I waited for it…dreamed about it.
But it was never to be. My time in the US Marine Corps didn’t include that experience. It wasn’t mine to have or to hold. I served between the two Gulf Wars and, while we trained and did our deployments to the Mediterranean and Okinawa, they were largely peaceful endeavors. Don’t misinterpret…I wouldn’t trade my experiences in the Marine Corps for anything. I can say with 100% certainty that I wouldn’t be a fraction of who I am today without those years of experiences under my belt. I met and served with some of the finest human beings to walk this planet…hands down. I learned more about life, leadership, responsibility, and accountability than I could have possibly learned elsewhere.
But in the back of my head, that little voice feels cheated. Denied of my chance. Sure, when people see my Marine tattoos at parties or gatherings, I tell them that I was grateful to have been so lucky. I’ll say, “I hit the window perfectly. I was spared the atrocities of war and possibly a lifetime of psychological issues.” But I’m not being honest…I feel ashamed and resentful. Its faulty, self-deprecating thinking rooted in old stories and propaganda, I know. But still, it’s there. When I feel the difficulty and struggle of life, I sometimes think about how much easier it would have been to die on the battlefield at 18, forever remembered by those closest to me for the honorable sacrifice to God, Country, and Corps. I question whether the mental and emotional impact of seeing the death of war first hand might be outweighed by the “knowing”. To those who have lived this reality, I can assume that your answer would be a resounding “no”…there are too many stories of PTSD and the like to discount the true impact of war. But to those who have not, I ask, “Am I alone in my thinking on this?”
Look, I’m not asking for opinions on the merits of war or the politics of sending our young men to die for questionable causes in far-away lands. And I can rationalize and logic my way through all the reasons why this thinking is “self-defeating” from a psychological and self-help standpoint. I can even get on board with the spiritual view of “my path and purpose being greater”, or at least different, than that which would have been experienced in war (i.e. what is…is). And the problem with all of the above, is that, deep down, I don’t really believe it despite my ability to voice it. Likely, this means that I have more work to do. Luckily, I am alive and I have the faculties to do so. Onward and upward. Semper Fi.
p.s. For the record, I don’t believe that there is anything shameful in serving one’s country in peace-time or war-time. I’ve never felt that way about any other service members despite the fact that I self-embody such feelings towards my experience. Just didn’t want anybody out there to get the wrong idea!