OPINION — There are those that went to Vietnam that came back and swear that the “baggin’ and taggin'” did not really bother them much. Baggin’ and taggin,’ for the uninitiated, was the duty of making sure that the Marines who were killed had one of their dog tags securely affixed to one of their boots, if one leg and foot was still present, before putting the body in a body bag to be shipped back to their wife or mother.
After doing this task two or three times, one reaches a plateau about that aspect of life in a war zone; people go to war, people kill each other in war and some of the ways people get killed are pretty horrible – so it helps to go on “automatic” and be numb while baggin’ and taggin.’
While in Vietnam, my experience was that there were two ways I could get hurt after I reached several other similar plateaus; one was to get close to people and then have them get killed, and the other was to experience a lot of pain and suffering when I got killed.
If I stayed remote, “all business” when interacting with my Marines, I would not be hurt if they were killed. The other way to be hurt remains a problem ….
So combat veterans come back with understanding, strategies and tactics designed to keep them from being whittled away when loved ones die. Forget the “friend” scenario; most combat veterans have few, if any.
The understanding, strategies and tactics require one to keep as much emotional distance as possible from everyone, especially the ones you love the most!
It makes sense that you must love them or you would not be with them, right? You don’t go out and find a woman you hate and marry her, right? You don’t have children because there isn’t enough stress inherent to life, do you? You don’t drown the kids between 12 years old (when the aliens come and take away their brains) and 25 years old (when the aliens bring their brains back) because you are weak, do you?
Nah, they should just know that the combat vet loves them, right?
I show or tell my wife and kids most every time I see them that I love them. On the days I don’t remember to tell them, which is very rare, I don’t feel I’ve given my life my best effort.
Friends, however, that is a different story. I do not have many because it just has never seemed to be worth the risk; at least until my wife bought me a friend.
Willie G. came into my life on Christmas Day in 1999: a black and white male Jack Russell Terrier who chased tennis balls relentlessly, barked at cars while he rode two-up on my Harley and made it the whole family’s responsibility to meet his every need.
Willie did not care a bit that I wanted to limit how close we got. Quite a number of times, I hated loving him, but he did not care a bit about that either.
He asked me to let him go today, so he is now in the wind in Angel’s Canyon. He is no longer blind, no longer crippled and, as my oldest puts it, “… has lots of brothers and sisters to boss around.”
He taught me that it is really worth it to care for others, and it is important to show them even if you believe “they should know.” Get closer to others, let them see, know or hear that you love them. The value far exceeds the risk of being hurt. Life is full circle filled with what you give, not what you hold back.
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