In the past, Thanksgiving was a really cool time of the year. As a kid and young man, Thanksgiving was a time for me to chill. My parents stopped yelling at me about my studies. I would make the rounds and get invited over by the Bowen and Hawasly family. I would see my other pals Karim and Pat.
As a grown man, I enjoyed invites to the large Talley home. Each of my Florida Thanksgivings was truly a time to give thanks and to visit folks. I never had just one family to thank. My life was predictable, even in mystery.
Since my deployment to Iraq, however, Thanksgiving has been a heavy day for me. It has been very transient, solitary and unpredictable.
Remembering my friends
In my younger years, during the Cold War, I thought about my childhood friends who were in the military. Two friends stand out. Ramsey and Pat were doing hardship tours in South Korea ROK (Republic of Korea).
I always wondered how they spent Thanksgiving. They had families, and I am sure that their families missed these great soldiers dearly. Did these pals feel alone? This was in the 1980s, well before the internet and email. I should have written them letters, because they were great friends. I never did, and now I regret that I never wrote my pals.
I am not recreating this as a Norman Rockwell scene regarding my childhood pals, though I can appreciate the 1945 Norman Rockwell painting of the soldier cutting potatoes with his mother during Thanksgiving. The painting suggests some deep themes that do not seem to be raised by most in our society, like me forgetting or just not being attuned to my pals while they were on their hardship tours.
When I found out about being on the Battle Roster for my deployment to Iraq, I did not know that it would be a last-minute thing, like a two-week notice. Just before deploying, we were doing some pre-deployment training in Fort Bragg, N.C., yet I needed to be home to sort out things prior to Iraq.
My life suddenly became chaotic just before leaving, and I do not remember having a Thanksgiving meal. I remember having the thought of how unprepared I was for Iraq, due to my almost 20-year break in military service.
I know that there are organizations that send over care packages to troops who are stationed or deployed overseas during the holidays. Troops appreciate the loving cards, phone cards, toothbrushes, baby wipes and candy!
Do troops eat all the candy? No, but it’s always well-received by that ratty-dressed local kid who will give you a second of calm while ‘outside of the wire.’ That kid might resent the terror all around himself or herself, but for one second, there is a mystical calm in the chaos. I wish this to be the case.
So maybe I do want a Norman Rockwell scene. Maybe all I can say is that there is a spirit of thanks for the packages sent overseas to the troops, and that in some cases, that spirit of thanks is compounded in some strange way.
Ironically, I would get many packages of kids’ clothing. Why? Folks back home sent over clothing for a five-year-old girl who was dying of a cardiac disorder. Rawan was from the Iraqi town of Jabella, and I would see her and her family periodically. One of my aunts had a severe cardiac disorder, and had died as a young child during the occupation of Korea by the Imperial Japanese Army.
I never knew my aunt, but I did know Rawan. I am thankful for Rawan and all of those who helped get Rawan expert medical care outside of a war zone. I thank Rawan’s family for trusting me. Thanksgiving is lived out in different ways for those who wear or have worn a military uniform.
This article is part of a weekly column exploring spiritual transformation for veterans. To read the previous article in the series, visit BEYOND THE SPECTACLE OF VETERANS DAY: Reflecting on the losses at home»
image 1 Pixabay 2 Thanksgiving on Combat Outpost Cherkatah, Khowst province, Afghanistan via Flickr (CC BY 2.0) 3 Virginia State Parks staff [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons