Danny was five years old and I was three, so he watched over me while we played. He was the first friend I ever made and I don't remember him at all. I have crystal clear memories of riding down a steep and pebbly hillside road in Pennsylvania on my Dukes of Hazzard Big Wheel tricycle, and grudgingly having to take turns with someone. I remember stopping by his house on my way to a funeral and marvelling at a family of brownish rabbits cooped up in a cage in his backyard atop an old pillar of bricks with grass growing through the crumbling grout. I couldn't believe people were actually allowed to have rabbits. They seemed as rare and otherworldly as unicorns. I can recall these small details perfectly but don't remember Danny, who was right at my side.
A letter just showed up that says Danny died in Iraq at the end of October. His armored vehicle was struck by one of the roadside bombs that we've grown so accustomed to hearing about. The people who killed him did not face him directly, and I guess you've already made up your mind as to whether acts like this should be chalked up to cowardice or tactics.
In the envelope are newspaper clippings of this boy I don't remember who ultimately became a man I didn't know, and the wide eyes looking back at me are exactly the same as those found in several photographs from my youth. It's fitting that his eyes were so open, considering how much he looked after other people in his life. He was the oldest of six children, the others all girls. His father went to Florida with a friend shortly after the sixth child was born to try and earn enough money to take care of his family, but they took a wrong turn down a one way street and were killed in a head-on collision. Danny's mother provided for her family by herself as best she could after that, but at the age of 40 she contracted a severe case of Alzheimer's, leaving Danny to take care of everyone as best he could. Reading the newspaper article, Danny is only survived by his mother and two of his sisters. What happened to the other three girls I cannot say.
Danny was on his third tour of duty, and this was his second voluntary tour. Unlike most Hollywood depictions of soldiers who volunteer for additional tours of duty, Danny was not addicted to combat or psychopathic. Every soldier he befriended said he was the most soft spoken and kind man they had known. According to numerous letters home and conversations with his fellow soldiers, he fully understood the danger he was in but strongly believed that the terrorists who poured into the country to lay roadside bombs and behead civilians and fire rpgs into lines of Iraqis attempting to freely vote for the future of their country were enemies of basic humanity that should not go unopposed. There is no mention of the WMDs we tend to focus on exclusively or the reasons we went in, only quotes that show he felt the people he was now facing needed to be fought instead of ignored or appeased, and that if there were no Iraq war they would be hurting people somewhere else.
While I might agree with him and I might not, my opinions of the war are irrelevant. I'm just a jerk that completely forgot about a genuinely good person in favor of a few rabbits and a chunk of plastic that's been in a junkyard somewhere for the past fifteen years. I stayed home to write jokes and immerse myself in the safe, fabricated realities our modern world provides while Danny was out there risking and ultimately sacrificing his life fighting on my behalf. Besides, a humorist doling out political wisdom is without exception as awkward and useless to sit through as Stephen Hawking attempting to demonstrate the best way to dunk a basketball.
There isn't much I can do for him, but I can ask that you keep in mind there are men like Danny out there who fully believe in what they are doing. I'm positive there are soldiers serving in this war who doubt their reasons for being there and they deserve as much of our respect and thanks as everyone else, but they aren't the only people there. If you disagree with every aspect of the war I only ask that you think twice before oversimplifying things and pretending to speak on all the soldiers' behalfs by saying the war is completely pointless and the best thing we can do is bring everyone home the next time you're talking politics. After all, it would be equally ridiculous and unfair to say every soldier wants to stay. I'm probably stating the obvious, but I think I'll risk it.
A list of things to avoid whenever you're in Gary or any of the Hoosier State's beautiful and welcoming locations.
You ask how his day went and he responds, "Fine." Or, you ask what he's up to and he says, "Nothing."
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