My wife, a friend of your mother's, has been asking me to write to you for several months now. So far I have resisted. I really did not know what to say.
You see Jesse, I was over there in 1990-1991. I did not come home to the States to receive a hero's welcome like so many troops did. Instead, I sailed back to Japan, stopping at Pattaya Beach and Subic Bay to burn off pent up frustration before stepping back onto the land of the rising sun. I remember Green Peace protesting our presence in Japan as we reentered Yokosuka Bay. I finally returned back to the States in November of 1991, to find our nation still wrapped up in a patriotic fervor. I was actually asked to ride on the back of a convertible in my small town's Christmas parade like a damned prom queen or something. I refused the invitation. I was used to free beer from the vets in Perth Australia, but bar patrons not allowing me to buy my own brew in my home town was a new experience for me. It was nuts.
We were fortunate in 1991. While the "Gulf War sickness" has affected some, and others suffer from PTSD, relatively few Americans lost their lives or were physically maimed. Many of us thought we would sail the Gulf like the Flying Dutchman, never going to war at all. One of my favorite photos is of a friend holding a sign that read "Bush Ain't Got the Balls." I remember being placed on the day crew, and awakening from a deep sleep the night of January 17, as the steam powered catapults began to send incessant heavy booming shudders into the bowels of our ship. Our air campaign had begun. I remember 'round the clock flight ops, and I remember going ashore on detachment. I remember how it felt to not know if you would live, die, or never make it back home in either condition. And I cannot imagine what you may be feeling.
Our little war was not easy, but it was a damned sight easier than yours. In a very real sense, we failed to finish a job that you are presently cleaning up. Many folks may not understand that, but the reality is there, and the guilt I feel for leaving the job for you and your comrades to finish is something I was forced to accept.
When Al Quaida attacked the U.S. on September 11, I found myself on the way to a recruiter's office. As I pulled up in the parking lot, I realized........I had become old, fat, soft. I now had a wife and little girl at home. September 11 was the day I realized I had become an old man. I did not go into the recruiter's office. I drove away to let someone else clean up my mess. The guilt of that action still haunts me at times.
My heart is over there with you Jesse. How I wish I still had the opportunity to participate in the history making events that you now possess. Believe it or not, your life will never again be as good, or as bad. The memories you will carry from these moments will affect the way you conduct yourself for the rest of your life. The mental fortitude and sureness of self that you will return home with is something nobody can ever take from you. No matter what. Just today, I had a physician try to chew me out. Physicians can be little tyrants in their dealings with nurses. I just smirked. Then I told him it looked to me like he had a problem, and I walked away and did my job. I had long ago been chewed on by much better men, and his little stink would not merit me wiping it off the bottom of my shoe.
You may become disillusioned with the way the media and some people in the States are starting to think Jesse. Do not let it sway you. You know your job, they do not. They are nobody to judge you. The United States will still be waiting for you when you return. Your family will still love you. The freedoms and opportunities you are fighting to protect will still be yours for the taking. The ability to tell your grandchildren you defended their future is something nobody can take from you. But you must come home. Take care of your buddies and yourself, and make it home. When you do, I'll be the grizzled old vet wanting to shake your hand, saying thank you, and not allowing you to buy your own beer. One day, when another generation of young men go off to war, and you are an old man, you will know how I feel.
Until that time, all I can do is proudly salute you and say thank you for your service. Thank you Jesse. Thank you.