A few years ago when I was assigned to the Pentagon, my mother-in-law, Kate, and Robin came to visit my wife and I in Washington, D.C. We were in Arlington National Cemetery to watch the President place a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns.
As the President entered the cemetery grounds, the Howitzers fired, boldly, loudly announcing the commander-in-chief’s arrival. We were a few yards from the cannons, about as far away as I am now, and it scared Robin out of her shoes. It is the only time I have ever laughed while on that hallowed ground.
But here in Iraq, the sound of the Howitzers denote a presence, but not of a distinguished visitor, but rather it denotes the presence of trouble somewhere in the restive city of Fallujah where right now more than 10,000 U.S. and British soldiers, sailors, sirmen and Marines are supporting their Iraqi brethren in a fight to rid the city of anti-Iraq forces.
This morning as the barrage started, I donned my full “battle rattle,” 40 pounds of protective gear that has replaced the weight that I have lost since I’ve been here. I thought about my sister-in-law, how she jumped when the guns fired, and I smiled.
I arrived at the operations center as the guns continued to fire rounds into the city. I checked my e-mail to find a note from Kate. She wrote that she knew where I was and that she was praying for me.
She mentioned in her e-mail that with as many prayers as she had said for me, that she often envisioned a flock of angels floating around me. If I stopped suddenly, she wrote, they would all run into each other. The thought brought another smile to my face.
But on this Veterans’ Day, Kate said that if I wanted to let someone else borrow a few of those angels that she’d be okay with it. So being the good officer that I like to think I am, I’ve reassigned a few of them “downrange” as we say in the military. There are others who need protection a lot more than I.
I then read an e-mail from my wife, Rosie, who is back in the states patiently waiting for me to come home on R&R leave, wondering when I’ll get out of Fallujah and start my long journey home, for my short stay back in reality.
We won’t get to pay our respects to a veteran together this year, but I’m hoping that this essay will suffice somehow, if words can provide comfort, or convey appreciation which I think they cannot, but right now, from here, it is all I can offer.
And she’ll see that 6,000 miles away her husband wanted to pay tribute to her father, my father-in-law, Dave Black, a U.S. military veteran who didn’t consider himself extraordinary or special, but has been missed, and who lives on through his daughter’s independent spirit, my wife, and through his grandson’s energy, my son, Duncan.
I’m certain there are angels floating around me and I’m sure one of them is my father-in-law, Capt. Dave Black, and from what I hear of him, he’s probably got them flying in formation.