The years pass quickly. All they leave behind are faded memories.
Twenty years ago I recall sitting in a dimly lit regimental artillery command post waiting for our division's attack across the Iraqi fortified line arrayed along the Kuwaiti border within artillery range of our position. We were in a full scale shooting war; for the second time in my career as a Marine. The Iraqis were dug in. They had chemical and biological weapons. All of us lived with the unspoken thought that we might not make it home. We had celebrated Christmas in the Saudi desert and since arriving in country we had been moving methodically and frequently, ever closer to the border we would cross. Our movements were preceded by an advance party of bulldozers that erected ten foot high sand berms in the shape of a square. Short of an air burst or a direct hit these little desert forts provided us a modicum of safety in the wide open desert. We sat there shivering in the cold, sipping strong, dark, black coffee while listening to the crackling noise of the radio receivers at two o'clock in the morning. None of us felt much like talking. Every so often the night air would reverberate and the very ground itself would shake under our feet as a flight of B-52 bombers carpet bombed the other side of the border. These arc light strikes would make us sit up and coax us into talking nervously about what it might be like for those guys, very much like us, on the receiving end. A boyish radio operator looked at a Gunnery Sargent updating a large map nearby and asked apprehensively if the Air Force knew we had changed our position that day? The Gunny, a Texan, spit some chewing tobacco juice into a soda can, smiled and told him not to worry since US Marines were more expendable than Iraqi infantrymen. Everyone laughed, the tension was broken. We all crawled back into the quiet recesses of our minds where we continued to dream of home.
On watch, I usually pulled out my favorite photo of my wife Anoula and our three year old son, Nick, placing it reverently in a spot that I could occasionally gaze at. I'd try to keep busy, to keep my mind on the task at hand. War is mostly tedious, even boring, until it is abruptly punctuated by those interminable moments of stark terror. Sitting there that night I was thankful for the boredom. Funny how our minds wander, as if in a dream, lost in our thoughts and memories. That particular night I traveled back to a warm evening in Athens, remembering the words of a sad Greek love song that I first heard at the party in a local taverna, celebrating our engagement. The song is about a soldier standing at his lonely guard post, thinking of his girlfriend, Anoula, and lamenting the fact that he would not be there in December to celebrate her nameday. The name of the song is "Anoula of the Snow."
"It's been awhile since the moon passsed through here,
the landscape is filled with khaki and it eats at your heart,
On white paper I write at night, once again: 'I love you.'
On watch, I whisper your name,
Anoula of the Snow,
I won't be with you on the ninth of December,
when you celebrate your special day.
But at night, in my dream, the doves enter the barracks and speak to me,
and then fly off to Anna of the Winter."
Some songs are indelibly stamped into our memories. No matter where we are or what we are doing they pull us back in time. They recreate the place and the feelings we felt when we heard them. In so doing they become cherished possessions.
Soldiers the world over, fight for different reasons. Some fight for glory, freedom, money, or love of country. I think most fight because they don't want to let their buddies down. One thing I am sure of however, on dark, lonely nights they all dream only of home and the people waiting for them there. This post is dedicated to another generation of young men and women in faraway places who dream of home and the people who wait anxiously for their safe return. May their dreams come true and may they hold their loved ones in their arms once again.