Today I got a visit from a former student who wanted to introduce his pregnant wife to the teachers who helped him turn his life around. This was a student who was in trouble six years ago. He was spinning his wheels, involved with the wrong crowd, doing stuff that could have probably gotten him arrested. But, he got out.
Last time I saw him, two years ago, he had just returned from his first tour in Iraq. He had joined the Marines after high school and that choice seemed to stabilize his behavior and start him in the right direction. His demeanor on that visit was intense. He had been part of invasion, had acted as a sniper, had seen concrete victories. He was proud and tough. He had killed the enemy. I even let him speak to one of my classes; many of the students were intimidated.
This visit was much different. He had been back from his second tour of Iraq and was preparing in a month to return for a third. Not since Vietnam have units seen so much action, he claims. Plus his wife is due in June. His somber attitude was such a contrast. He now has something to live for.
He also mentioned an assignment he did in my class – one that I have done every year since he sat in the back of my classroom. After going through the experience of a soldier in World War I, students read a number of poems written by WWI soldiers. Then the students are to write a poem of their own from the perspective of a WWI soldier. This student, who didn’t do any work before this, wrote an amazing poem. Six years later I still remember the class’s reaction (and my own). Here was a student that was disruptive, lazy, and generally unmotivated (he would agree with me). This assignment turned him around in my class (and he turned himself around completely the next year). I have mixed feelings about my students joining the military (especially today), but when he told me before he graduated that he was joining the Marines, I knew that it was the right choice for him at the time.
Now as he prepares to go to war again, I wished him the best and asked him to stay safe. What a silly thing to say. But what else is there to say.
Here is his poem, written six years ago.
4 the Dead
Death, Destruction, Pain, Despair
Is what I see, as missiles fill the air.
As we duck down in the blood soaked trenches, we march each day.
Painful memories of fallen friends, dead as they lay.
War torn Hero’s that died each day.
Fighting for independence, giving their lives away.
Friends trapped in barbed wire and blown to ash,
Soon to be picked up and buried like trash.
Body parts mixed, identities lost.
How many souls will this war cost.
I keep asking myself why we must fight.
‘Cause I must pray each day to survive the night.
Mangled frames, and empty shells
Each day we walk right through the gates of hell.
Looking at pictures of my wife and kids.
Leaving them will be the hardest thing I ever did.
Sanity slipping, losing it fast.
I saw my best friend’s neck get slashed.
I have found a reason to keep fighting this war.
Taking revenge for fallen comrades is what I have in store.
The cries of those still living in the field.
Those that cry out to be healed.
Some times I wish I would just die,
’cause next to the dead is where I lie.
Quietly into the night we all must go.
Dying with strangers we hardly know.
I’ve seen men cry but not weep.
I’ve seen men die from fear in their sleep.
Till I die I shall do my best,
But in the end I shall fall like the rest.