This question puts veterans in one heck of an uncomfortable position. This is something personal, unlike asking someone if they shot any deer on a hunting trip or something. We're talking about killing another human being. And when you take the life of someone else, it changes you forever. It leaves a mark on your soul. You can never forget it and you always think about things like how he could have been a really good person like me that was just following orders and was serving his country. He could have had a wife and young children at home that will never see him again. If it was me that was killed by an Iraqi solider, would he think about me the rest of his life? The truth is, although our cultures are quite different, humankind is not. The soldier in my cross hairs might otherwise have been a good friend to me if we were from the same neighborhood. But we were not. We were on different sides of the war and we both had orders to kill each other. It's kill or be killed. That's the ugliness of war. And there is no way around it.
I wrote today's post back in December. Ever since I decided to share my story, the good, the bad, and the ugly, and after reading through several of my letters for the first time since I wrote them 25 years ago, it weighed heavily on my mind and kept me up at night. It brought back memories as I re-lived the experience in my mind and in my dreams. The only way to deal with feelings that were resurfacing in a constructive way was to write about it. I had to have an outlet and I have found writing to be my way of expressing those feelings. The following morning I saw and shared a video by an organization called Seattle Marines. In the video titled "Once Enemies, Now Friends," various veterans of WWII were interviewed about going back to Japan and making peace with those who were once considered their enemies. One veteran explained what he, and his Japanese counterparts, learned about each other: "We are all human beings exactly the same." Someone else gets it! Is it a coincidence that I found this video the morning after I started writing today's post? It's as if I needed to know that I was not alone and The God of comfort sent it my way.
Don't get me wrong, I voluntarily enlisted in the Marines. I volunteered to go to war. I knew of the possibility of killing or being killed. I had no reservations of taking life if I had to, and still don't today if I need to defend myself or others with me. I'm just saying that taking the life of someone else is not something to brag about. It leaves a dark mark on your soul and the last thing a veteran wants to do is dwell on it.
So veterans in general hate answering this question, and find it difficult to respond to. But, civilians don't know any better and they ask because they are curious. It's almost as if you have to kill someone to add the cool factor in being a real hero or something. Whatever the reason is, their curiosity gets the best of them and you have to forgive them for that.
When I flew back to my hometown there was a short conversation I had with someone (I won't say who). Someone asked me the question I was not comfortable answering. But instead of flat out asking if I killed anyone, they asked that burning question without really asking the question. I felt very awkward and was trying to answer without really answering. The question I was asked was, "Did you get to fire your weapon?" My answer was, "Well, yeah." They then asked, "What did you shoot at?" And the only thing I could come up with was "Targets." And that was it. By calling them targets, it dehumanized them. It was the easiest way to compartmentalize what had to be done without dealing with the mental issues. They were just targets.