By Jack Mandaville I want to make a few of my...
By Jack Mandaville
“Those who will may raise monuments of marble to perpetuate the fame of heroes. Those who will may build memorial halls to remind those who shall gather there in after times what manhood could do and dare for right, and what high examples of virtue and valor have gone before them. But let us make our offering to the ever-living soul. Let us build our benefactions in the ever-growing heart, that they shall live and rise and spread in blessing beyond our sight, beyond the ken of man and beyond the touch of time.”
-Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain
The most defining years of my life were in the United States Marine Corps. In that environment of testosterone-driven bravado, aggression, and heartache, I witnessed the finest qualities of man emerge from those I served with. Their bravery, wit, and undying loyalty to each other are characteristics I’ve never found with any other large mass of people.
Most of us are barely clinging on to our twenties at this point. Our service ended when MySpace was still the most popular social-networking tool. Iraq, like MySpace, is a bygone episode to most Americans—not these guys, though. You don’t forget things like that, even when it seems like everyone around you has.
I recently attended a wedding for one of the men I served with. In fact, at this wedding, there were eight of us who shared our service together at one point or another. All of them are Veterans of Iraq. All of them served as infantrymen. And all of them were involved with at least one major offensive operation during that conflict. We don’t need to beat around the bush here, folks: they’ve all inflicted, been a witness to, and have been on the receiving end of unique levels of violence—like many who’ve served.
We see an unvarying glorification of what these men did via film, literature, and videogames. Americans, as a whole, are preoccupied with war (always have been)—this is undeniable. The aforementioned mediums have given Joe Sixpack and Plain Jane an opportunity to safely indulge their curiosities. I certainly can’t blame anyone for being interested in the subject. Conflict is primal. Even those who partake in it from a safe distance instinctively want to be involved with it… or at the very least understand it.
But as I get older, and after witnessing the recent gathering between these men, I can honestly say that the things they did in the crucibles of war aren’t what impresses me about them. I guess, in a sick way, seeing and constantly hearing about the extraordinary actions of those who fought becomes very ordinary after a while. Maybe, as the years have passed, I’ve taken their feats for granted. I do know one thing, though: they’re currently at their best.
The young men they once were doesn’t even hold a candle to the men they’ve become. I didn’t see battle hardened Marines at this wedding. I saw devoted husbands, loving fathers, and skilled professionals. These guys have a zest for life that few can understand. That voracious appetite for peace was born out of their exposure to the worst levels of violence. This is why I’m in awe of them. This is why their greatest accomplishments were not in combat exploits, but in their thriving attempt at normalcy… and they represent the Iraq/Afghanistan generation as a whole.
One of my close friends at the wedding was a guy named… well, we can call him “Ski.” Anyone who has ever served in the military knows at least one person like him. He was an uncontrolled Marine who tested his chain-of-command’s patience at every opportunity, just one incident after another with the guy. The thing is he was not only a great rifleman, but everyone—including the higher ups—really liked him despite his penchant for trouble.
In a very ironic way, Iraq was a safer place for him than being stateside—mainly because he was forced to put his game face on and was removed from the temptations of boredom and alcohol… things that usually triggered his wild ways.
Here’s a brief summary of Ski’s exploits:
- Led dozens of Mexican police officers on a thirty minute high-speed car chase around Tijuana, eventually making it safely over the border with a juice supply that could humble Ken Caminiti.
- Got blackout drunk in the middle of a month long training exercise and delivered a stallion-like downpour of urine on his platoon sergeant as he lay sleeping.
- Drunkenly stumbled onto a US naval vessel and took not one, not two, not three, but four steaming dumps around numerous common areas of the ship.
- Tossed four MRE bombs in a Quonset hut filled with all of our company’s staff NCOs and officers, then proceeded to block the doors as they ferociously attempted to escape the vomit-inducing fumes.
- Got piss-drunk right after our deployment homecoming and went around tearing down all the “Welcome Home” signs adorning our barracks with the intent of setting them ablaze. Before he could light those bitches on fire, the Duty NCO approached him—which resulted in Ski throwing a Butterbean-style haymaker right at the guy’s face, dropping him like Snookie.
- (When I visited him in his hometown two years after we were out of the Marine Corps.) Threw a full can of beer at a group of college students passing us on the freeway… right in front of a Massachusetts Highway Patrolman. After the officer had pulled us over and threatened all of us with a trip to jail, Ski decided the best thing he could do was go into a loud, unapologetic tirade about how the college students deserved it. We were let off with a warning a few minutes later.
Those are just a few examples out of hundreds.
Right after the wedding ceremony ended, as guests began making their way to the reception hall, I approached Ski to ask how he was getting to the reception.
“I’m not going to the reception, man,” he responded. “I really just wanna go back to my place and be with my daughter.”
I’ve known him for almost a decade and, in that time, the basis of our friendship typically consisted of him exposing me to one debauched experience after another. Now, at thirty years old, he was happily forgoing a night of excessive drinking, dancing, and cavorting with his Marine Corps friends in order to be with a little girl he loves more than anything on this earth.
I wasn’t taken aback or even bothered by his response. After a decade of friendship, it was the most impressive thing I’ve ever seen from him. More impressive than anything he ever did in uniform.
Attending this wedding/reunion with these men and their significant others gave me a tremendous sense of joy. Everything they’ve gone through as Marines, as Veterans, in their careers, and as family men has been a struggle. They always come through… and this is the truest testament of their character.
Our only obligation to the past, at this point, is to remember those who can’t share the future with us—the thousands of brave men and women who gave all. As we grow old and witness each other wrinkle and gray, those who made the ultimate sacrifice will always be remembered in their youth. They’re kept in our hearts every single day and serve as a constant reminder that we must live our lives to the fullest.
We can never forget our experiences—the good or the bad. Plato said, “Only the dead have seen the end of war.” For those who survive it, they are left to fight for peace. It’s not a peace that’s found by the end of conflict, but a personal one. To understand serenity and happiness you must break through the worst of violence and despair. Find someone and give them your undivided love. Be an excellent parent. Strive to provide for your family with a career you enjoy. They know this and they’re living examples of true peace.