Before I tell my tale, I’ll offer full disclosure. When the aisle-crossing War Party first began to beat its drums, I straddled the fence, so to speak, unsure of my thoughts on the matter — neglecting questions Constitutional; countering claims that the war wasn’t really in our interest by, naïvely, averring that, having empowered Saddam Hussein in the Nineteen eighties, we had an obligation to remove him from power; attempting to justify the war in conversation with my father; and calling out Peter Quaranto, whom I hadn’t yet met, but whom I’ve since come very much to like and to respect, after he lambasted, in Notre Dame’s Observer, those whose twisted machinations, then, manifested themselves as policy that I thought myself, possibly, able to support — but never really leaping across the fence, as it were, wholly to support the war.
By the fall of 2004, I wrote, as token conservative, an “anybody but anybody but Bush” piece in Notre Dame’s left-wing Common Sense, wherein, exhorting liberals not to cast their votes for John Kerry, I revealed the staunch opposition to the invasion of Iraq that I had come to espouse. To this day, I contend that we ought not to have invaded Iraq; however, despite feeling this way, and despite attempting to maintain always a façade of support for immediate withdrawal, I have, to myself, expressed doubts, along the same lines of naïvety mentioned above. To wit, having turned Mesopotamia into such a clusterfuck, we ought, I have, on occasion, convinced myself, to remain present until we have helped to forge some sort of lasting stability.
Tonight, I joined my friend Dana in Silver Spring for a couple of rounds of darts at McGinty’s, an “Irish” pub in downtown where we’ve played before. The public house has its dart boards in a room near the back, down a hallway from the bar. The bathrooms are nearby, and an emergency exit leads patrons out of the bar from a corner of the room. Standing in the corner opposite the emergency door, my back turned to the room, which, generally, only those throwing occupy, updating the score, I heard someone address me. Turning, I saw that he wore a Notre Dame t-shirt and ball-cap; having noticed my kelly green number three jersey, he engaged me in some brief small talk about today’s game. (Thank God on high the Irish finally figured out how to play some football!) Two friends accompanied him, one in a wheelchair, both legs amputated at or about the knee. The other friend walked with a crutch; I noticed, eventually, that one of his legs had been severed below the knee. They had come through the room to use the emergency exit; when I realized that the wheelchair-bound friend struggled with the door, I kindly held it for them. Only then dawned on me that the guy who had addressed me also walked on crutches. I had seen one while he spoke to me, but, for whatever reason, this registered not in my mind. As he passed through the door, behind his friends, and thanked me, I noticed that he, too, had lost part of a leg, his left. I closed the door, looked at Dana, and half-spoke, half-mouth, “Vets?!” In reply, she speculated that, perhaps, they’d taken a night out from Walter Reed.
The moment, brief as it was, left me feeling wholly unsettled. I have friends who have served in Iraq; at least one, a J.A.G. attorney, works there now. A high school classmate killed himself a few years ago, while serving. And yet, because the friends returned home alive and well, and Mike’s death arose as much out of personal struggles Stateside as any frustrations in Iraq, the horrors never really materialized for me. Tonight, that all changed, as I talked Notre Dame football, just briefly, with a couple of guys no older than I — no different than I, or my readers: normal people — who returned from Iraq physically incomplete (to put it sufficiently crudely that I beg my readers’ forgiveness) and, doubtless, mentally incomplete, too. It jarred and saddened me. Mayhap, in part, I reacted out of guilt: What alignment of stars, as they say, permitted me the luxury of not enlisting, of earning my degree from Notre Dame, where I had the chance to watch those Notre Dame games, while my new friends battled heat and enemy and depression and God knows what? It’s more than this, though: We ought not to have invaded Iraq in the first place, our “leaders” conniving as they did to convince the three courageous Americans whom I met in McGinty’s tonight that they left all that they knew, and risked their lives, and returned with mangled bodies and souls, for the greater good.
Support our troops: Bring them home. Now. No-one else ought to return to the nation-state for which he risks his life unable to walk with ease, to ascend the steps at Notre Dame Stadium without a struggle. And, damn it, no-one else should return home to Indiana as Sgt. Joe Montgomery did.
Thought they’ll never read or hear it, I offer my heartfelt thanks to the three gentleman for whom I had the pleasure simply of holding open a door. God bless them.
Filed under: America, Iraq, Notre Dame | Tagged: George W. Bush, McGinty's, Sgt. Joe Montgomery, Silver Spring, Veterans, War in Iraq, wounded soldiers | 2 Comments »