INDEPENDENCE DAY: A SOLDIER’S PERSPECTIVE

U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Erik S. Anderson/Released About…

U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Erik S. Anderson/Released

About the author:
A Massachusetts native, P.J. White has served on three combat tours in Southwest Asia since 2006, and is a former member of the elite US Army Parachute Team, The Golden Knights. He has been a contributing writer for Harris Publications since 2008.

“Daddy, why are you crying?”
It was Memorial Day in a small New England town, otherwise unremarkable from many other cozy bedroom communities in that area, and yet on this particular day, I stood alongside my father in a light drizzle as the American Legion rendered a 21-gun salute to the fallen. My father turned to me and quietly explained, in the best words he had at that moment, that he had lost many of his OCS classmates in Vietnam, and that this particular day was very difficult for him. I remember thinking that this was all very profound, seeing my normally stoic father crying, the sharp-looking American Legion veterans crisply working the actions on what I later came to recognize as being lovingly maintained ‘03 Springfields, and seeing the other small children scrambling in the wet grass afterwards, searching in earnest for the spent blank casings.

I didn’t understand the totality of what I had just witnessed, but I realized even at that young age that it was something profoundly important, something that had my father’s utmost respect. And so it earned my curious respect also.

Tactical-life.com recently asked me to write an article on what the Fourth of July means to deployed servicemen and servicewomen. More specifically, what does that particular holiday feel like, taste like and smell like, while experienced from within the boundaries of the Hostile Fire areas to which our military is presently deployed? I must say that I was a bit taken aback by the request, and at first I was rather reticent to even take the assignment. What does that even mean, “What does the Fourth feel like?”

I really hadn’t pondered its meaning in that context before, any more than I pondered the deeper significance of that particular holiday at any other time in my life. It is most assuredly a great American holiday, perhaps the greatest one of all. But overseas, it is often perceived as being just another day in the “sandbox,” with all of the associated dust, smells, boredom, noise, trials and tribulations. Sure, there may be an impromptu (and liquorless) barbeque with the guys, or a USO tour might come to visit the larger bases on that particular day, or maybe the engineers will entreat an assembled crowd to a fougasse demonstration in lieu of fireworks. But more often than not, it is just another day of missing home, and carrying out one’s assigned duties, just like any other day “over there.”

But the very assignment begged the question: Do people back in the States really understand what being there is all about? Not politically—that is best left to the pundits and the politicians to sort out. But from within the ranks, how can we tell them what it feels like to be there? Do people know? Can they comprehend? Do they even care anymore? After all, approximately only 1 percent of the U.S. population has been at war for ten years, with the majority of the rest only serving to offer up their unqualified opinions on the matter; occasionally celebrating a “big win” and then going back to their daily lives without giving much additional thought to those who are serving in harm’s way on their behalf. So, I felt obligated to give a glimpse, if only through my own perceptions, as to what I have felt while serving overseas on that particular day. But it wasn’t the day that was remarkable. I can barely remember what happened on the Fourth on any of my three combat tours. I can only say with the utmost confidence that I felt the same thing every day I was over there, including the Fourth of July.

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  • Nick Carter (USMC)

    Pete,
    After meeting you last night at Hooters, I was impressed with your background and intrigued by our conversation. And, after reading the artical
    above, I now understand why. Very impressive.
    Keep up the good work and the best of everything to you and yours.
    Simper Fi,
    Nick 4/22/12