I worked nights as a waitress, paying my way through college, in Honolulu during the early 80s. Between work and school, I didn't have much time to meet other people, and my family was thousands of miles away. Several Marines frequented the bar, and one GySgt. of a Marine sniper platoon, Larry Hatfield, sensed my shyness and invited me to participate in a lot of Marine recreational events. We became close friends, but I could never understand how a person could look through a scope and willingly kill another human being. As a Quaker, the very concept of a sniper troubled me. I was raised that killing is always wrongperiod. I often told him, and the other guys in the sniper platoon, my opinion on this. They usually remained silent on the subject.
As time went by, I lost contact with the Marines I knew from that sniper platoon, but I was privileged, later on, to be invited to produce tours as a volunteer (USO/AFE) for Marines on various bases overseas. Those of you who have met USO/AFE entertainers know that we are nowhere near the combat zones, and are in fact well-insulated from the horrors of war. We have fun entertaining you; we love eating with you at the mess halls or sitting out in the dirt and hearing your crazy jokes; we do our handshake tours of hospitals and PR tents and feel good and then are lucky enough to go home while you stay behind.
But Iraq was different. For the first time I found myself weeping at night after I came back from doing handshake tours. I couldn't adopt the USO maxim of looking the Marines in the eyes and shaking hands on the hospital tours, because there were teenage Marines with no hands and no eyes. A bomb at a well while I was there on my last tour left 200 women and children dead or injured at the hands of their own countrymen. The image of a Marine, badly wounded, struggling to carry a small 3 year old girl to safety is forever seared in my mind.
I wondereda lotabout the kind of sacrifice that it takes for a person to volunteer in the Corps and experience this kind of tragedy on a regular basis.
Iraqi women refugees would tell me, through translators, about how the Kurdish women would throw their infants from trucks on their way to being executed by Saddam Hussein in the hope that strangers would raise the soon-to-be-orphaned children, and how often it was only the U.S. Marines and military units who would help them get medical care if they did survive the terrors inflicted upon them.
This is what I have learned about war and the Marines: that I have never seen a U.S. senator cry while telling me about holding a dying friend in his arms, and there's precious few senators who come home from work missing a leg or two.
That I have never heard a U.S. congressman tell me what it's like to pass out soccer balls and writing paper to children who have been denied an education since birth.
That I have never heard any politician or corporate leader describe to me, as one Marine did after a show, that she wanted a better life for her child back home but wanted better lives for the children of Iraq, too.
Marines are livingand sometimes dyingfor democracy, not just talking about it for the CNN cameras. They do their jobs, and come home, quietly, to go back to farming in Iowa or driving trucks in Kentucky , and, for the most part, don't talk about it. And God knows we civilians don't get an accurate picture back home of what is going on.
I still think killing is wrong, but I have come to understand that sometimes it is necessary and that lack of intervention, especially in humanitarian missions in oppressed nations, is tantamount to pulling the trigger on innocent civilians who only want what we want: a safe home for their children and food on the table and the right to be who they are.
I'm not naive enough to think that most of our political leaders go to war for compassion (I think most of them want to protect corporate interests), but I do believe, from knowing the Marines I have been lucky enough to know, that Marines act from compassion, decency, and with hearts bigger than most people will ever experience.
I understand now that a sniperor any Marine, in any job supporting the ideals of the Corpsdoes what he or she does because the Constitution of the United States is not some remote piece of paper; the idea of freedom is real to a Marine.
As one young lance corporal told me, as he guarded us during a show set-up in a particularly volatile area (after our show had been cancelled the day before because terrorists had blown up another 27 children nearby), 'Don't worrywe got your back.'
It shames me to think that I had to leave my country on these tours in order to understand what precious gifts I have as an American, that every day, somewhere in the world, a Marine is watching my back. I never considered that a sniper, or any Marine, may be asked to kill in order to save innocent lives but now I understand.
So to all of you Marines out there, please accept this heartfelt thanks for what you do. To the guys from the sniper platoon in Kaneohethis is a late apology for questioning you, and a thank you for what you have taught me, but I hope some of you read this. In our American culture, we don't talk much about being noble, decent, loyal and honorable. I have yet to meet a Marine who did not possess all of those qualities. You are the big kids in high school who didn't let the bullies hurt the little kids. If you are reading this from Afghanistan or Iraq or Camp Lejeune; if you are reading this from a V.A. facility; if you are reading this from your home; know this: that what you do is important. When you are feeling weary and discouraged, remember that there are people in the world living in freedom because of you. Not only the refugees from warbut me, too.
Of the four wars in my lifetime none came about because the U.S. was too strong. -Ronald Reagan