The Army Went to War....America Went To The Mall.....
I just spent most of a month reading this book.
Anyone who knows me, or keeps even remote track of my Facebook Book page knows that this is amazing. I am a two or three book a week guy....a serious junkie.
I read books at stoplights. In traffic jams. On highways. Left without a book in a restaurant, I will read the back of my credit cards. There may be a 12 step program for this.
I credit my book problem with two things at least in my life: my survival in the restaurant business for 40 years (my ex-competitors all wound down after work with cocaine and booze); and my complete inability to send bills for work already done.
You take the good with the bad.
Anyway.....the reason this book has taken me a month to finish is not about its length, poor writing, or boring subject matter.
It is that I only have so many tears in my head.
Weeping can be cathartic.....but this book cuts so close to the bone that picking it up was like going to confession as a youth in the Catholic Church.
"Sorry, Father. It has been two weeks since my last confession......"
We Catholics dodge confession for months and years....because we don't want to come to grips with our mortality, our frailty, and the failures of our good intentions.....and the successes of our bad intentions.
Time of War is a book Bill Murphy wrote about the West Point Class of 2002. Kids born in 1980 or thereabouts. Kids the same age as Brendan, and Jay, and Pants, and Danny, and Jacob....and all the rest of our kids who never found themselves at the sharp end of the stick of our national foreign policy.
Bill Murphy was a staffer and researcher for Bob Woodward in his last couple of books about Iraq and American policy. He interviewed dozens of members of the West Point class of '02 as part of his research for Woodward.....and when Woodward's book went in a different direction found that his interviewee's were looking for someone to tell their story.
Forty years ago, I was a die-hard anti-war guy about Vietnam. I started out on the other team: my friend The Hassler and I famously bought oranges from the Orange Julius in Times Square in 1965 to pelt anti-war demonstrators. But, when my classmates came back from Vietnam either in boxes, or mentally and emotionally destroyed.....I switched sides.
My objections were practical and selfish. MY FRIENDS are being killed. Who gives a shit about some sweaty mountain somewhere? I believe that there is a finite amount of courage, loyalty, energy and love distributed amongst us. It is criminal to waste it fucking with each other.
Plus, it was clear to anyone but the dullest dumfuck that the war was being managed badly...technically and politically. My friends were dying in vain. Their courage, industry, love, suffering and loyalty was being pissed away.
Fast forward to Iraq.
Early on, this looked like a replay. Good officers being canned for political reasons. Hysteria being drummed up, etc.
And, finally.....good people being killed by incompetent fuckwads.
Bill Murphy follows the Class of '02 from West Point through five or six stories. He calmly and quiety introduces you to families, girlfriends and boyfriends.....dreams, hopes.....all that All-American stuff.
And everyone dies. Horribly. Sadly. Pretty much pointlessly.
I spent a bunch of evenings crying myself to sleep as I worked my way through this book. Bill Murphy packs a lot in.....It reminds me of "Hiroshima" by John Hersey, or "The Long Gray Line" by Rick Atkinson.
I read "Hiroshima" when I was 12....and the image of the aid worker rushing to help a severely burned woman, grasping her hands to pull her up....and having her flesh come off like two gloves in his hands....still haunts me every time I hear the word "nuclear".
I read "Long Gray Line" when I was forty.....and the image of one of our excruciatingly tuned and educated young men, a helicopter pilot graduate of West Point in 1966......talking with a buddy on the radio as his machine spun a rotor. They both knew he had seconds to live, and the kid shouted out the account number of a savings account he had secretly set up for the baby son he had never met.
This image haunts me still. The waste, the stupidity....the loss of that kind of love, courage, skill, dedication.....
So...fast forward to 2009. Bill Murphy captures beautifully the hopes, dreams, struggles, fears, etc of the West Point Class of '02. And...implicitly, the waste of the loss of all of that.
For me the most poignant part of the book.....beyond the fact that these kids are all the same age as my kids....is the fact that the survivors are all on Facebook.
Jen Bryant....widow of Todd, of the heartbreaking letters home. Drew Sloan, survivor of traumatic brain injury and lots of other stuff. Katie Moshier....widow of Tim, mother of Natalie.
You could Friend them.....You could send them a message.
I don't think it will help.
Point being: kids like you, kids like my kids and your kids.....kids who went to bat for us while we were not even paying attention to the outcome of our not paying attention....
Died. Were blown up. Lost lovers and parents....and important body parts.
Last weekend we did a fundraiser for a non-profit run by West Point 2003 grad, DJ Skelton....Paradox Sports.
DJ was a stationed in Monterey before being deployed to Iraq. He is a nutball rock-climber and gym rat. In November of 2004, he was blown up in Iraq in the second battle of Fallujah. Check the links. DJ is the Energizer Bunny crossed with Wolverine crossed with Mother Teresa.....if Mama T was handy with a SAW.
Paradox builds and supplies specialty high-tech athletic equipment to folks that have been blown up.....not just veterans, but knucklehead mountaineers, mountain bikers, skiiers....the whole ball of wax.
Our fundraiser was at Sanctuary Rock Gym in Sand City. We pulled out all of the stops, sent a full crew...and Brendan worked for weeks on crazy, fun high-tech appetizers to serve. It was the same weekend as the Sea Otter Classic....and the Pebble Beach Wine and Food whore strut.
No one came.....
Our workers outnumbered the guests.......
I am still so pissed off and ashamed at my community that haven't written a word since.
So....don't talk to me. Buy the goddam book. Send some cash to Paradox.
Thank the Lord Above that you and I have never had to make the kind of sacrifices and choices we have forced upon our best and brightest.....
And get off the couch and do your part to make sure that the West Point Class of 2042 does not reload and repeat.
Oh, yeah. I am all fired up about Memorial Day.
Think about it. The last time we did this our toll was 2500. Now it is double......