Patriotism

All posts tagged Patriotism

On changing.

Published July 9, 2015 by mandileighbean

“If you really wanted to mess me up, you should have gotten to me sooner.”

“She doesn’t even take it out on people when she’s having a bad day; that’s character.”

I have an appointment on Friday to have my hair cut and colored. It’s going to be a dramatic change, but I feel like that is what the summer is for. I also plan on getting my first – maybe my only – tattoo before returning to school.

My friend Christine and I traveled to used bookstores in Manasquan and Belmar. The one in Belmar featured a truly amazing woman working the register. Christine mentioned that I was a writer and the woman asked some follow-up questions. She told me about Belmar’s BookCon and asked me to e-mail her. It’d be one hell of an opportunity to network and market myself. The only issue is that she wants current releases, but my first novel came out three years ago, and my second has yet to find a home. I sent her an e-mail anyway, because if I’ve learned anything it’s that you always have to try. She said she’d let me know and I want to be optimistic, but I also want to have realistic expectations – boy, that would be a first.

I spent the holiday weekend with family in Pennsylvania. It was incredibly relaxing to disconnect from reality. The first day, Dad and I went into the tiny, one stoplight town for some bags of ice. We ended up purchasing delicious soft serve ice cream. We sat together and the back of the flatbed, watching some locals play softball. The weather was gorgeous and it was a perfect snapshot of small town life. Dad said he’d only ever ate ice cream in the bed of a truck with one other girl and it wasn’t even Mom. It was quite the moment until Dad made me feel like we were dating.

The parade was rained out, but I was still able to see fireworks between the trees and above the mountains surrounding my aunt’s farm. I couldn’t remember the last time I sat and watched fireworks. I loved hearing the soft, faded pops in the distance.

Weekly Writing Prompt #24: “An army private learns that he has to go back for a second tour.”

truckbeach

Cory had parked his battered pickup truck in an utterly deserted parking lot along the shore. He was surprised by how empty it was. It wasn’t too late, barely even dusk. The sky was a wonderful shade of orange and everyone was missing it. Cory had made a resolution to not miss anything upon returning home two years ago from a year’s deployment in Iraq. He’d walked off his job at a store selling auto parts in a dying town. He’d driven across the country with his best friend, sleeping on rooftops and somehow living those cliched adventures Hollywood constantly chronicles, and returned home smiling. He’d visited with family members he hadn’t seen in years and years, but had been kind and thoughtful enough to keep in touch while he served overseas. It had been a pleasant 730 days back on American soil, but Cory was restless. He was plagued with a persistent urge to move, to never be settled. Cory knew he could rest when he was dead, and so he would, but only then.

And that was why Cory had been relieved when he learned that he was going to Afghanistan for a second tour. He sat in his truck with the windows rolled down, listening to the waves crash against the shore. It was a soothing sound and it was constant. Cory reasoned it might be soothing because it was constant; very few things in life were that way. He was reflecting upon his reaction, trying to rationalize it, understand it as an outsider might try to understand it, as someone who had never served and could never possibly understand might try. Cory drained the can of cheap beer he’d been drinking. All this thinking, this extraneous use of one of the most important organs in his body, required hydration. He needed to stay hydrated because he needed to keep thinking, needed to figure out a way to explain this to her mother without her falling to the kitchen floor in convulsing sobs. Suddenly frustrated, Cory chucked the can out of the open window, then slammed his palms against the steering wheel, flattening them. He exhaled deeply.

Cory supposed he was fortunate there was only one woman in his life he had to consider, had to disappoint and devastate. He was too young to be married, too young for a lot of things, but not too young to die apparently. Cory didn’t believe that, but he was anticipating his mother’s arguments. His dad might have understood, could have possibly been an ally, but he had left some time ago, had walked out a long time ago. It wasn’t something Cory thought about much, so he was surprised he was thinking of that now. His mood shifted from frustrated to simply exhausted. Cory ran his cracked hands along his haggard face and kept breathing.

He cracked open another beer. The constant waves that Cory had found soothing so recently now irritated and annoyed him. He turned the key back in the ignition and switched on the radio to some mind-numbing soft rock station. He left it playing low as a background noise, as a distraction. He didn’t want to get stuck inside his own head, but he guessed he should have thought about that before he isolated himself in his old pickup truck that was so old the engine was embarrassingly loud. People could hear him coming from miles away. But then again, that made sense because Cory had never been talented at deception, had never been good at hiding things. When his commander told him he was going to be redeployed, he barely hid the smile on his face, could hardly contain his excitement. Cory was ready to go, ready to return. Cory knew that sounded strange, utterly inconceivable, but he had people over there, he left people over there.

The truth of the matter was that Cory had two families he would kill for, and be killed for. Both were small and close knit. They were equal that way, but the one at home was safe and would be okay. The other one, the one overseas, needed him. It was simple for Cory – they needed him and so he would go. Sure he was scared; hell, he was terrified, would be crazy not to be. But he wanted to go back. At home, he felt useless. There was a definite lack of adrenaline in his day to day routine, and he realized that being a soldier on active duty during wartime was like an addiction. Politicians vying for election would pontificate about the nobility and patriotism of sacrificing all for one’s country, and that was all well and good – Cory did not disagree – but war was bad. Horrible and horrendous things happened, but he would go back. He was returning without hesitation. He wouldn’t say it was because of something noble like patriotic duty, but he would argue that it was more than that. It was partly the addiction to adrenaline, partly the strong desire to stop feeling restless, and partly something else, something Cory was unable to explain.

Other soldiers would get it. Other soldiers would definitely get it. He remembered one mission, a snatch and grab gone awry, where a wounded soldier being transported on a gurney, most likely fatally wounded, had sat up and returned fire upon the enemy. Cory thought that was so cool, that a dying man’s last moments were spent doing his utmost to protect his brothers in arms. Cory wanted to be like that.

Things were bad over there. Enemy combatants were using American equipment to kill American soldiers. Now Cory didn’t have much of a mind for politics, would never willingly enter into a debate, and while some found that ironic or disappointing or whatever, Cory knew it wasn’t about that, about the politicians back home. It wasn’t about anyone back home, really, no matter what Hollywood or CNN tried to sell the American people. Soldiers kept fighting because of the guys to their left and because of the guys to their right. Brotherhood and loyalty called him back.

He thought about his buddy, John. They had just come back in from patrol. They all assumed they were safe, back on base. The atmosphere was relaxed and the squadron had gathered at a picnic table. John had just finished telling some hilarious and wildly exaggerated story from boot camp. He was drinking soda from one of those classic glass bottles, so with laughter surrounding him, John raised the bottle to wet his whistle so he could continue entertaining. That was John’s thing – never serious, always on. It eased the tension and though they claimed it was obnoxious and knew it was just John’s defense mechanism for the anomaly that was life as a soldier, his buddies greatly appreciated it. So they all watched John drink from that bottle with admiration gleaming in their eyes.

So they all saw the sniper’s bullet enter the bottom of the bottle. The glass shattered into thousands of shards, exploded. They flinched, some faces were cut, but they didn’t exactly look away, so they saw the bullet exit through the top of John’s skull.

Cory missed John. He missed everyone he had served with, those surviving and those who made the ultimate sacrifice. That’s why he was ready to go back, that’s why he would go back – always, no matter when he was asked. He would forever fight for the guy to his right, and the guy to his left.

That’s what he would try to explain to his mother.

Three U.S. soldiers pay their respects to their fallen comrades after a service held Saturday at the Iraqi National Parade Field to honor eight soldiers from the 2nd Brigade of the 3rd Infantry Division and three journalists who lost thier lives during the U.S.-led war against Iraq.  A helmet, rifle and pair of boots represented each soldier while three helmets marked "press" on the front represented the journalists lost during the war.

 

 

On Gary Sinse.

Published August 20, 2012 by mandileighbean

I’m no one special – far from it if my greatest fears are to be realized – but I’ve been blessed enough to have some special things happen to me and my loved ones.  I got to meet Gerard Way, the lead singer of My Chemical Romance which, despite all the torment I endure from some friends, is one of my favorite bands.  He signed his comic book and talked to me for about a minute and it was nice. My friend Maeve had set the whole thing up for my 19th birthday and it meant the world to me; still does, actually.

Melanie and I traveled to Maine to vacation – but really, I was mildly stalking Stephen King – and we got to see the real Pet Sematary and meet incredibly nice people.

I visited the location where “Friday the 13th” was filmed.

Oh, and this one time, I saw Stephen Colbert walking out of a hardware store in Montclair, New Jersey.  I also saw him at Church for Palm Sunday.

But of all the random and cool things that I have been blessed enough to experience, last night was the most amazing.

Those closest to me, but particularly my college roommates, know of my love for Gary Sinise.  He stars in “CSI: New York” and most famously portrayed Lieutenant Dan in the movie, “Forrest Gump.”  He also portrayed Stu Redman in the television miniseries “The Stand,” based upon one of my favorite books of all time by my favorite author of all time, Stephen King.  Basically, Gary and I have a history in the sense that I have been stalking – again, mildly so – him for years.

It was genuinely serendipitous how the whole thing came together.  The other night, as referenced in my most recently posted short story, my family and I watched a documentary about Sinise’s band entitled, “Lt. Dan Band: For the Common Good.”  It was incredibly moving as it showcased the band’s dedication to honoring veterans, wounded warriors, first responders and those who gave all through their performances and visits overseas.  My father and I watched in awe as two of the female singers pulled a young serviceman on stage and serenaded him, hugging him and cooing in an endearing and yet incredibly embarrassing display of affection.  We cried as Sinise visited family after family, location after location and spent an impressive majority of his time and money in honoring those who serve.

I turned to my dad and said, “How great would it be if he could perform at the fundraiser for Nick?”

Dad laughed and said, “Yeah, he could pull me on stage.”

What started as a joke turned serious when I did some research on Sinise’s foundation, which monetarily and charitably aided veterans, first responders and their families.  I wrote a letter, requesting the foundation participate in Nick’s fundraiser but unfortunately, the request was not timely enough as Sinise is booked solid through the end of the year.  I clicked around and discovered that the Lieutenant Dan Band was playing at Six Flags Great Adventure in Jackson – only thirty minutes from home – in four days.

My mind began to put together a wild kind of scheme – if Dad wore his uniform and we both wore our pins commemorating Nick’s memory, then maybe, just maybe we could get his attention and he could sign a DVD copy of “Forrest Gump” for us to raffle off.  Hell, maybe we could even meet him and take pictures.  It seemed doubtful, but it was worth a shot.  I bought the tickets and told Dad it was a done deal, we were going.

The day of the concert I slept in later than I wanted.  Dad and I were rushed, as he came home from work and immediately showered, shaved and changed into his uniform.  He had me type up a letter and enclose a flyer detailing the specifics of Nick’s fundraiser so that if we couldn’t speak with Sinise, we could at least pass along a letter … possibly.  As I went to the mall to pick up a copy of the movie, Dad decided to go ahead to the park where he was not charged admission, got the letter and flyer to Sinise, made friends with the New York Fire Department and then met Gary Sinise.

I shit you not (pardon my French).

When I showed up, the band was doing sound check, so I only got to watch from the stage.  As I had the camera, the merchandise for autographing and the pen, I was nervous we wouldn’t get a second chance.  I gave my dad a real hard time about meeting Sinise without me and blamed him for botching the entire operation.  It was in jest though because as the day progressed, I met amazing men and women who answered the call on September 11th and have continued to do so ever since.  I met first responders, firemen, veterans and other heroes and there were several times I could not hold back the tears.  The stories I heard and the characters I met were priceless and had I not met Sinise, the day would have been a godsend for other reasons.

When the concert started, I loved it.  I wasn’t sure what to expect at first, but the band sounded amazing and the crowd was into it.  Then my dad WAS pulled up on stage and serenaded.  Then we DID meet Gary Sinise backstage and I do not exaggerate when I say he is one of the nicest people I’ve ever met, celebrity or otherwise.  He talked to us for a solid five minutes; he bonded with Dad about being in Iraq and the crazier aspects of the war, and he suffered through my gushing.  I talked about The Stand and “CSI: New York.”  I made him sign everything we brought and hugged him more times than he was probably comfortable with.  But he did it all with a smile and was never anything but gracious and friendly.

Why am I telling you this?  It isn’t to bore you with a long-winded, personal anecdote, or to impress you with my celebrity encounter.  If I am being honest with myself, which is this new thing that I’m trying, I am telling you this because I hope it restores your faith in humanity as it did mine.  Gary Sinise really does use his celebrity for good.  He pays the band members out of his own pocket as the ticket sales from every show go to charity.  Sinise will pass the time with anyone, is genuine and compassionate and just all around spectacular.

Here is the DVD Gary Sinise signed. It will be raffled off at Nick’s memorial scholarship fundraiser in September.

I asked Gary Sinise to sign my battered copy of Stephen King’s novel The Stand.

And Gary Sinise signed it, like an awesome gentleman. It says, “To Mandi, Take Care, Gary Sinise.”

Here’s photographic evidence of the encounter.

And last but not least, here is a picture I will cherish for a long, long time.

The only bummer of the day was that the incredibly attractive young man who took the pictures for my dad and me (since my camera battery died, of course) did not seem too interested.  Alas.  Also, I can’t help but think this whole enterprise was guided by some divine intervention.  I honestly believe Nick had my back the whole time.  He is sorely missed.

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