As I prepared to write this tribute, I told our soldier, "This isn't about me. I write from a mother's perspective ... this is your story." I didn't want to share what is only his to tell.
Ben's reply, "Mom it is your blog. Write what you want to write...."
I can finally attempt to put into words a post long past due. It deserved to be written last October - but ....
There are no words to describe when a loved one goes to war.
There are no words to describe when that loved one returns.
There are only foggy vignettes blurred by tears.
When Ben returned from Afghanistan there were four soldiers on his "sensitive equipment" flight. We decorated a wall at the battallion office and waited three hours ...
I fell asleep smiling. Ben was almost home.
Our son's safe return is a miracle. Ben was the gunner responsible for the safety of his convoy. They traveled the distance from Savannah to Miami on some of their missions...hundreds of miles one way. Their missions often prolonged by broken down trucks and waiting for more vehicles with equipment for detecting IED's ... because the ones they employed a couple of days earlier, at the start of their mission had all been destroyed by roadside bombs. He described seeing IED's detonated going to their destination that were already replanted and detonating on their return trip hours later.
In his last month of deployment our nation was about to elect a new president and we were being told the war in Afghanistan was winding down. Those were some of Ben's worst weeks in Afghanistan.
Ben described watching the truck directly in front of him hit an IED. The body of the marine driving it was never found. On one mission they stopped on the road for two hours. When they began to move forward, the truck behind him pulled up to where Ben's vehicle had sat all that time and an IED went off beneath it. On another mission they were outside their truck and came under attack. Ben heard the sound of rapid gunfire swoosh past his head, barely missing him. He pushed a marine (not in his convoy) into his truck. As the gunner responsible for the convoy he opened fire on insurgents in a hillside above them and called for reinforcements.
It still amazes me that anyone would volunteer for a job like this. To sit in the presence of such courage is humbling. To realize it is our son often leaves this "crafter of words" ... speechless.
The week before Ben was fighting the enemy.
The day after he arrived home was spent furnishing his apartment. As we shopped he was constantly dodging my hands. I just wanted to hug him and look at his smile; he ducked and slipped past most of my attempts as we shopped, laughing and teasing me. During deployments, I often went to his bedroom and sat alone and prayed - his scent still lingered in his room. Suddenly he was within reach...almost....
We arrived at Ben's apartment on base with our car and his truck packed full. I thought it would take us hours just to empty the contents but as soon as we arrived, soldiers poured out of their apartments. In less than ten minutes, both vehicles were empty. And then ....
It was time for us to leave. Al had to return to work. I had an art show deadline in four days. Ben needed time to readjust and to simply ... be.
Al and I had planned to celebrate with an hour at Tybee Island before heading home. Our favorite pasttime is walking on the beach holding hands... an extremely rare treat these days. But as I hugged our soldier I knew there was no way I could go to the beach.
I fought back tears... so thankful for our soldier's safe return.
"Could we go to Warrior's Walk instead of the beach?"
"That's a good idea," was Al's immediate reply.
Ben looked pleased.
AND tears for those who did not come home alive. Tears for those who love them so much and whose lives will never be the same....
And the most I knew I could do was pray....
Each tree on Warriors Walk represents a soldier from Ft. Stewart whose life was lost in Iraq. (Ben's first deployment was Iraq and his group was the first from Afghanistan to deploy from Ft. Stewart.) Families regularly place items beneath the tree of their soldier ... symbols of things they loved and enjoyed during their short, young lives ....
This memorial stretches on and on and on.... We walked through it and prayed for those left behind until the sun went down.
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pictures and text copyright Janice E. Gray 2013