He is so young.
That was what my mind contemplated just before I shook the soldier’s hand. In that nanosecond before our hands touched I didn’t really know what to say — the young man in front of me was a stranger. The people surrounding him in the park’s pavilion were his family and friends. Total strangers to me. I extended my right hand to take his.
‘Ah, Alec? Um. Thank you,? was the unclear, not pithy and somewhat disjointed greeting that escaped past my lips.
‘Thank you, sir,? he politely responded with a firm handshake and a calm, gentle voice.
‘Um, thank you,? I repeated. ‘This is my six-year-old son, Shamus.?
In June, 2003 Alec MacDougall was a new graduate of Goodrich High School. By January of 2004, PFC Alec MacDougall was heading to Baghdad via Kuwait as part of the United States 2nd Army Calvary Regiment, 84th Engineers. Gone were the lush greens of the Michigan landscape. Gone were the friends, family and familiar sounds and smells of home. Home became an old cigarette factory out in the desert, halfway around the globe.
Having just cast ballots for the Primary Election, Shamus and I were en-route to karate class. I had seen the signs welcoming Alec home and so veered the family minivan off the main drag, down a side street to the park. I wanted to thank Alec and I wanted Shamus to thank Alec. Too many times we live our lives, enjoy our prosperity and ignore the world around us. It is not often enough we contemplate and thank those who go off and fight and die for the ideals of freedom and liberty.
Businessman Doug Tetmeyer employed Alec before Alec went to war. He was at the welcome home party and e-mailed me a note that summed things up nicely: ‘Whether you agree with the actions in Iraq or not, it is important to show support for the troops who are doing their best to protect us and our way of life, as well as the peace of the world.?
I have been privileged to know and work with many veterans of foreign wars. Heck, after the Korean ‘conflict,? my dad was a dogface who cleaned up mines and helped build back Korea. But, I had never had the opportunity — nor did I ever seek one out — to thank a current soldier of an ongoing, current war.
I do know a soldier, cousin Kathleen’s husband Mark. He served his time during the Gulf War and then for the benefits was a reservist after. He left for Iraq around Christmas time. Before he left, I bought him a Guinness, wished him luck and told him to make it back home. Every night I say a little prayer for his and all our soldiers? safe return. Every day I check my e-mail with trepidation. I signed up to receive the Department of Defense’s daily updates. And each day when I see another announcement of the death of an American soldier, my heart slows down. I signed up as a reporter-type to keep current tabs on local soldiers, but what I really do is look and watch for Mark. I keep my fingers crossed.
News reports from the war are always nebulous and tragic. So it was a breath of fresh air to read what Alec told The Citizen newspaper editor.
‘The war is going good for us. It’s changing over there — they’re handing power over to the Iraqis like they said they would.?
Of course it was frightening to further read, ‘We went out on a lot of policing missions. They would attack everyday. They’d fight with bayonet after running out of ammunition. We cleaned up the city. When the shooting starts you get scared, it’s dark and all you see are the tracers. You never want to be shot at, but you become accustomed to it and it’s a daily routine.?
They are correct when they say, ‘War is never easy.? It doesn’t end when it’s over and the soldiers come home. While my father was in Korea immediately after the ‘conflict,? the bullets were still flying. According to my grandmother, when Dad came home to Detroit he was a different person — nerves shot. He went on to live a productive life and make lots of people happy, but I really don’t know how much happiness he had inside.
You can never say enough ‘thank yous? to soldiers or their families for the sacrifices made — that doesn’t mean we don’t have to say it.
So, I say it again. Thank you, Alec. Thank you, Mark. Thank you, all.
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He is so young.