the next time you see one of us walking down the street, take a moment to look past the posture and the haircut. if you could see inner worlds, you would avert your eyes from the terror, horror, and pain that suffocates us with each breath; surrounded by the ghosts of bloody, haggard comrades who march with us. none of us ever said it, but each of us pledged the same solemn oath: I will never forget you.

think before you speak–we already know that it isn’t OK, and it probably never will be. nothing can replace the missed birthdays and lost loves, and we’ll never forget holidays tinged green and tan and brown and black, and the forlorn slices of dry turkey in cheap cardboard trays. disposable–just like us. we might be monsters to you, but the blood in us is red just like yours. if we never speak of the things we’ve done, it isn’t because we don’t care, it’s because there is no way you could possibly understand where we’ve been and what we have seen.

we are wracked by the shadows of war. gripped by the inescapable and terrible intimacy of minds trained to trust nothing and no one but the men and women who also wear the uniform, cursed with hands that will forever reach out in the lonely and insomnia-riddled hours of the night not for the touch of a lover but for the slick, cold solidity of a rifle.

if you dared look within us you might admire the spartan austerity of souls which have been hammered flat to ensure a good field of fire–survival is everything and leaves room for little else. we are demanding for reasons that kept us alive, our comrades safe, and all of us working until the job was done. we were never perfect but we tried like hell at it, exacting and draconian and ferociously loyal.

you think of us as brainwashed, and perhaps we are, but I wonder if you have the strength to stare into oblivion and feed yourself, mind, body, and soul into cauterizing flames and burn away your weakness. we knew service was pain and blood and death, but we kept putting one foot in front of the other until there was nothing left but cigarettes, booze, and nightmares.

we tore ourselves apart, and not a one of us will ever be whole again.

you’re welcome.