A reader reacted to yesterday’s blog post, pointing out that in emphasizing the pain that memories of combat inflict, I failed to mention the other feeling that combat veterans share: pride.
He’s right. It’s true that living through combat leaves behind vivid memories of grisly events one has witnessed and participated in. But it’s equally true that combatants come away knowing that they stood their ground in the face of threats to their lives. They were prepared to die for their country. They risked everything to do their duty. That gives them pride.
I share I that pride. I wasn’t a combatant on the battlefield, but I faced mortal danger to provide urgent intelligence to the men fighting for their lives. I stood side by side with the soldiers and Marines. Some were killed in ways so hideous that I still can’t speak of it to this day. But others survived because of the intelligence I was able to deliver.
For me—and I suspect for all combatants—the greatest pride comes from the knowledge that what I did saved the lives of the men fighting next to me. And they were, and still are, my brothers. I know of no bond stronger than the love I felt for the men fighting by my side. And I know of no grief greater than that which comes from watching them die.