Sometime ago, I wrote in this blog about who and what men fight for in combat. The reasoning that got them them—patriotism, a sense of duty, a desire to do the right thing—falls away under the pressure of the moment, and they fight to save the life of the man fighting next to them. I observed that phenomenon repeatedly during my years in combat in Vietnam and elsewhere. When the chips were down, I was there to save the man fighting next to me, and he was there for me.
That experience always brought back to me the biblical words (King James Version, John 15:13), “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” That indeed was my experience. We men are hesitant to use the word “love” for that feeling, because referring to men loving one another has tinges of homosexuality. But that’s what it is, the strongest love I have ever experienced.
Hence the grief that comes from the death of fellow combatant is among the most intense we ever feel. To this day, I grieve over the men I lost on the battlefield. I remember them vividly even though I can’t recall their names—in some cases, I didn’t even know their names. The loss of them will be with me as long as I live.
One of the saddest elements of my memories is the age of those young men. Most were eighteen or nineteen years old. Their lives were destroyed before they had even begun to live.