by Julia Buckley
My sister was in the Navy for twenty years; she recently retired. At one point she was on a plane bound for Iraq, but because the plane developed engine trouble, her unit was held back and another was sent instead. I considered her a hero for even being on the plane; so you can imagine my admiration for the people who are there now--young people being put in harm's way for the sake of their nation.
I don't understand war and I never will, but I do understand courage and devotion. I remember reading THE RED BADGE OF COURAGE, in which the young protagonist wonders if he will be brave in battle. None of us knows that for sure about ourselves, I suppose, but those young soldiers know it: they have to be brave every day, and their battles are more complex than the Civil War deaths--confusions of smoke and musket fire.
Stephen Crane never actually fought in a war, although he covered war as a journalist. But Wilfred Owen fought, and his assessment of war, after being a soldier, was that it wasn't what it had been proclaimed to be. In one of the most famous war poems ever written, Dulce Et Decorum Est, Owen exposed the truth about war from the inside. Owen was killed in France on November 4, 1918, one week before the Armistice.
I've heard that many soldiers in Iraq have turned to writing, as well, as a way of expressing all that they have been through. The NEA recently asked former soldiers to tell their stories, and the result was Operation Homecoming.
These are stories worth reading, because they reflect the experiences of people who were asked to be a nation's heroes. For those who have fallen, it will fall on others to tell their stories.