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My War Journal Book
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At the tender age of 8 years old, my brother Danny and I sat in the pews of my father’s church playing games to keep entertained while my dad preached the hell and brimstone sermons from the pulpit. Some of the games we would play would range from staring at a certain person in the church until they looked; whoever could stare the longest would win. My brother was infatuated with war, planes, guns and anything tactical. One service I noticed Danny had a paper and on it, he had drawn some little figures that look like little soldiers and also on the paper there were tanks, planes, and designated tree area, this represented cover and concealment.
He drew a line down the middle of the paper dividing both sides. He then folded the paper and then he took his pen and started putting dots everywhere. He did that for about 30 seconds or so then he flipped the paper and did it to the other side. I looked at him in puzzlement and then asked, “What are you doing Danny?” He looked at me squinted his beetle eye’s, pushed his nerdy glasses up and said quietly so that he wouldn’t bring attention to himself, “I am playing GI Joe.” I looked at him more confused. He then opens the paper and just like magic the dots showed through, the little soldiers, tanks, planes that he placed on the paper were either hit or a miss.
My brother made sound effects as if there were bullets being shot as well as little rumbling noises resembling explosions going off. I was so young and pure in mind that the word “war” wasn’t even part of my vocabulary. I was very interested in the game so as the service went on I learned how to play the game. Over the next weeks, my brother and I had a full blown war on the game on paper; it was similar to the popular game Battleship. We would keep score and the only way you won was if you killed everyone – in my mind that was the only way war was won.
I once asked my brother, “Danny, if you like war so much, why don’t you do something like you do on the paper.” My brother was older and had knowledge of the military structure so he answered me convincingly, “I just like playing war, I don’t think I would be a good GI Joe.” I answered back “Yea, I don’t think shooting someone would be fun, the paper game is fun, what do we call the game?” He replied, “War, we’ll call it war.” When I turned ten, I became infatuated with playing war out in the woods and in the open dirt fields, often alone but sometimes with my brother or even the all the neighborhood kids. I was into the civil war so it was always the North v.s. South.
I would run in the woods with a stick in my hand or even a squirt gun and act like someone was shooting at me, even making sound effects as I was talking on the radio. I would be lying on a dirt mound and peaking over, looking for the enemy. Just to act like I was getting shot at I was hit the dirt and have it fly up, giving a great effect. I often would try to sneak up on the construction workers that worked diligently on the highway that would later take my field away in the future. One day while sneaking around way out in the woods I found out that real quick what a gunshot sounded like and what now I know sounded like. I couldn’t believe I was out in the middle of the woods and somewhere out there in front of me was someone with a gun shooting. I wasn’t sure if it was at me, but I knew it was close.
I ran through the woods as fast as I could, I was so scared that I was going to die and my parents would never find me. I cut through an unfamiliar part in the woods and within seconds I went from flying like the wind, to falling face first into the mud, but this wasn’t just an ordinary mud, this was quicksand or something like that. It was like cement, but as time was passing I found myself going down slowly. I tried not to cry, I try to pull myself out of the mud, but I couldn’t I grab the tree lime that was over my head, but go figure it broke. Just like out of the movies a man came out of the bushes. In his hands was what looked like a pig stick of sorts. The man had a big grin on his face and asked me, “Son, you do know where you are?” I was scared to answer but I managed to get an answer. “I was just playing GI Joe.” The man laughed and then replied, “ Son, it’s hunting season and there are real guns being shot out here.” By now the quicksand that I was in had swallowed my leg up to my knees, did he notice, I have no idea, but I had to get out. The man took what I thought was a stick and stuck it out so that I could grab on to it. I grabbed and he pulled me out. I notice quickly that he wasn’t carrying a stick; rather he was carrying a gun, a big one.
The man wore a yellow vest that to me looked ridicules, but I wasn’t going to say anything. I finally got out of the sand and sure enough, I had lost my shoes and socks and I was just a mess. The man asked me if I want to go back to his truck so he could give me a ride home. I was so lost, so confused and embarrassed I took the ride. OK, I know that wasn’t the brightest idea to jump in the truck with someone I didn’t know, but really it was Michigan. I found out later that everyone basically went to my dad’s church and he was one of the members.
As I got older my story of playing GI Joe and getting stuck in the quicksand became a novel story at the church, well among the younger kids, especially the girls. It happened to be the man that got me out of the woods that day, I later down the road his daughter Mary would be my first kiss on the lips, under my dad’s pews. I wouldn’t go out in the wood again unless I was with my brother or friends. My brother and I later would spend endless hours out in the woods playing war against each other. I seemed to be sneakier and knew where to hide, were as he was more one that would spend a lot a time throwing things at me, like acorns, rocks and sometimes eggs.
I could never figure out where it was coming from. This was when I learned from my brother what a sniper was, I never truly understood, but I knew I didn’t like it. My brother didn’t mean to teach me about war, but really he did, in an innocent way. My brother gave me insight into something later I would reflect back on when in Iraq on my 1st and 2nd tours.
When my brother found out I was joining the military, he wasn’t too thrilled, but the only thing he said was “Dave, just keep your head down and remember they are not throwing eggs, it’s war.” The year that really sticks in my memories from my younger years, was 1985.
It was then I started to watch the news, well I tried, sometimes all of it just seemed like a bunch of old people telling stories, but it was at this time I truly started understanding what war and global conflict was and how these issues affected the world that I was in. President Ronald Reagan, whom I called “Jellybean,” was running the show and every time he was giving a speech on TV I would sit and intently listen. My mom told me that I would sit in front of the TV in a silent trance when the president was on.
On June12, 1987, Reagan challenged Gorbachev, then the General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, to tear the wall down as a symbol of his desire for increasing freedom in the Eastern Bloc. I was so excited I remember jumping up and down right after Reagan said his famous words that later I would look back to for example of the man that fought not just for those that he led, but those in other countries.
The following words today still inspire me: We welcome change and openness; for we believe that freedom and security go together, that the advance of human liberty can only strengthen the cause of world peace. There is one sign the Soviets can make that would be unmistakable, that would advance dramatically the cause of freedom and peace. General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization, come here to this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall! Looking back at the early years when life for me was simple and rather uncomplicated, there was still war and conflict. My parents really never had to explain to me what war was, I found out on my own and from doing that I really learned lessons that to this day follows me and gives me insight on what we call war.
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