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January 24, 2012

A Mother Muses on the News

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Guest blogger Connie Gibbons, whose husband Greg was with the 1st Battalion, 26th Marine Regiment at the Siege of Khe Sanh, muses on issues more contemporary; the recent news reports of United States Marines desecrating the dead bodies of their enemy.

To the mother of one of the young U S Marines widely circulated in the news to have reportedly desecrated human remains in a war zone, this news would have been received as shocking, though not for the reasons that many have publicly screamed. And, too, this could not have been the worst news she might receive. Not as life altering as, say, to have one of the perfectly uniformed and decorated Marines, in those formidable shiny military vehicles, pull up in front of her house to deliver the dreaded words she never wanted to hear, especially after all the silent, nightly bargaining with her god to return her son from harm’s way. No, this news punches proud USMC parents squarely in the face instead, leaving them publicly bloodied.

Every single day, from the time he first stood with uncertain wonder and fear on those historic yellow footprints after being ordered off the recruit bus, to that fateful day we all just saw on the news, he has been guided, drilled, taught, regimented, practiced, grilled, polished and united with Marine Corps pride.  He will tell his family he bleeds Marine Corps blood, too!  Pride in his fellow Marine, his Corps, his Country and his God…and if he came through all of that, it was not because he remained unscathed for having had the experience.  For all of his 18 or 19 years, he was now a man; now stronger, taller, quietly confident, well trained and loyal. He was polite, too, which pleased his mother who, not long before this ceremonious graduation day, had wondered what happened to those manners she so painstakingly tried to teach him.  Now man enough to be sent off to war, to kill or be killed, to stand and fight as one, to feel his body shaking with fear on the eve of that first battle; trembling with nausea and shocked at the first devastating loss he witnessed, and then again and again, and to proudly wear the uniform of a United States Marine.

Not just any woman can proudly say she is the mother of a United States Marine.  She raised her tousle-haired, rambunctious little boy to be the man he became under the apt tutelage of the United States Marine Corps; no prouder brotherhood have they, it can be said.  This mom—and many more—likely had said her heartfelt goodbye not too long before the news broke, maybe more than once or twice. Cautioned ever-so-gently not to cry, but with tears welling up in her eyes like spring ponds about to overflow, reminding herself that she wanted to see clearly, in case this would be the last time they saw each other.

You see, this unconditional love and golden pride of a mother for her son, the United States Marine, is legendary and consists of a grip so firm as to be able to separate angry grown brothers when they heatedly argue, yet soft enough to wipe away the tears of surprise from a small tousle-haired boy when he takes his first fall.  The love in the hands of this mother is as historic as war itself, and it was that very same historic grasp which, when her husband was presented the American flag at their son’s funeral from another war, another time, gently – so gently, reached out to tenderly touch it as if her son was wrapped inside this fragile, final gift.

This is the same mother who, when she would learn the reporter on the newscast was talking about her son, knew beyond any doubt or question that the eventual tears of remorse he would privately shed would be for her, for all those things she taught him, for the disappointment he knew she would have but would never reveal, and for the unconditional love and unwavering pride she continued to hold for him, the United States Marine
Trouble is…for those who do come home – from among the scant 1% of our citizens who are serving our country…the implications of being in combat carry a toll few can comprehend with comfort or certainty.  Any member of the military would be first in a long, long line to acknowledge that things can, and do, occur on the battlefield that would not have happened but for the extremes and contrasts from constant and unpredictable combat experience.  All would quietly know of this; few would speak loudly of it.

Talking about this is good because then it will be placed in the annals of our history for the longest lasting war and mothers will know what can take place because of war.  Because wars will continue to happen, and there is a high probability that something like this will happen again. Attempts to shame and harass this proud mother of a United States Marine probably will seem to go on endlessly, but will gradually diminish as the sharp edges of its harshness fade.

A mother’s stoic, unflinching endurance will prevail as equal to the pride she continues to have in her son, the United States Marine.  And now, because of the news report, those who know and understand and those who do not, clearly see the costs that war extracts from the few who serve…the unforeseen tolls and demands that result in actions little of which could be fully excusable, comfortably explainable, reasonably preventable, or publicly palatable.

Connie Gibbons is a writer who enjoys the outdoors of the Pacific Northwest with her husband Greg, a survivor of the Siege of Khe Sanh, and their two large dogs. She currently teaches in the College of Education for Northcentral University. Her immediate family includes both active duty and retired military personnel.

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