Upcoming Event: Poetry reading with Amy Sexauer at the National Veterans Memorial Museum in Ohio

Purple Heart Affairs: Symbolizing a Hero

I have been hurt and I have been healed. Each are a transformation from the known to unknown. I have heard the quiet echoes of my thoughts deep within a valley. I have felt the embrace of a breeze on top of a mountain. I intimately know and appreciate pain as much as I do joy. Without one you cannot have the other, but there are moments I feel I have neither. I become stuck in between outcomes ignoring the process. It’s easy to lose my orientation when I’m in that frame of mind. When I have fallen my reaction is to get up, while I am up I can expect and prepare for a fall. It is the moments I stumble where balance is difficult to obtain.

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Receiving a Purple Heart is a tragedy, within all its glory or embellishments. It simply means I [subjectively] was injured in a combat zone. The injury varies as does the series of events that led to that moment. The beginning and end could have passed within a blink of an eye, or a novel could be written about the trauma. Regardless, a piece is missing from before whether that’s physically or mentally. The task at hand is to repair that piece or figure out an alternative solution to live without it.

The moment is behind me as is the injury, but I am reminded daily of what I endured. There are times I wish I could forget and not for the apparent reasons. Like I said, I have been healed and don’t have lasting physical pain. The mental discomfort isn’t from the violence I witnessed it is from the altruism. Within the same breath I can say that moment is the best and worst thing that ever happened to me. Not only was I hurt, intertwined with that, I witnessed a great friend sacrifice his life. How can another moment stack up against  that honor?

My heart and my mind ache far more than my shoulder or my knee. On the contrary, my heart and my mind are set at ease knowing his death was honorable. I could argue against the war or our leadership; however, I can’t argue against his actions being derived from the love for his brothers. If I humble myself, I must admit that my actions were as well. That’s something to appreciate -- not glorify.

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The wound I must treat now is a cut from a double-edged sword. The proudest moment of my service is also the most traumatic. I never want to live in the glory of my past, nevertheless I feel it is important to share what I have experienced. At times, I position myself behind a gavel judging society through lens of valor; I compare ordinary acts to that of martyrdom; I place the importance of life and death on simple daily decisions. There are multiple things wrong with that kind of perception. One; it isn’t realistic or beneficial to measure people to that degree of scrutiny. Two; without much effort, I can become bitter, self-righteous and exhausted. I use to think I was better, not for what I actually did, but because of my humility. I would dismissively respond when addressed about my actions overseas. I believed others would have conducted themselves the same way and I was just doing my job. That’s where the struggle begins. I’m not sure if I still believe that. Could anyone have handle that situation? I don’t think so, they would have either handled it better or worse. Was I “just doing my job?” At face value the answer is yes. What I have to accept (begrudgingly) is I did go above the call of duty. That’s why there are awards, within all competition, to recognize victory and prestige (as little as they truly mean.)

Where does that leave me now? It sure as hell doesn’t place me on top of a pedestal looking down. That moment was a step within a staircase - not a podium. However, I can look a man in the eyes and speak from experience and with credibility in regards to endurance and perseverance. And it may be left at just those two categories. I have learned that humility isn’t to disregard my actions but rather to establish them within the proper framework. Coincidentally, it is to set aside ego when others don’t conduct themselves accordingly.

That mentality is difficult to understand. What I had to recognize was there are tiers of sacrifice and varying levels of discipline. It’s comparable to a varsity athlete criticizing someone who doesn’t even play the sport. Now if the person who doesn’t play the sport steps on the field and gets bulldozed, then that should suffice as a reminder they’re out of their scope of practice. Some people are hardwired as geniuses and some people are natural athletes. The opposite is undeniable and so is the middle ground. My personality, values, qualities, and strengths have been shaped through my experiences and upbringing. However, there is a biological and a spiritual foundation that I stand on that provides me the ability to practice benevolence. Even selfishly I want to provide for others. The source is not solely derived from my own efforts or understanding. I have been in the right place at the right time and responded to the best of my abilities, which, at times, could be argued aren’t enough.

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I am accountable to balance my humility and pride. There is such a thing as false humility as equally as there is such a thing as arrogance. I am in the pursuit to know when it is appropriate to share my victories just as much as I need to share my failures. Soldiers are taught to act brave and I believe bravery is synonymous with vulnerability. Heroes act out that bravery. A hero is not a lifelong title, it is an attribute of constant pursuit. With that in mind, that responsibility creates a position of authority, respect and obligation to truthfully share admirable and shameful experiences. Others depend on it. People gravitate towards drama and are influenced by war stories. We love to hear about battles during the World Wars and the brutal fights during Vietnam. Sometimes we fail to realize there are honorable men walking among us. They’re typically not shouting about their virtue. When the occasion presents itself ask them to share their experiences. In regards to the other side, be proud to share your story. We can’t let Hollywood or others embellish the military narrative.

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Not every soldier acted bravely and that doesn’t matter. They enlisted and hopefully served to the best of their ability. Not every soldier who received distinguished awards earned them. Better yet, people who deserve to be recognized for their actions with distinguished awards aren’t always properly received and that doesn’t matter either. The world continues to spin. Them and their brothers know what they truly did. Not every soldier who earned their distinction continues to live within that honor and that does matter. It matters to them and what they represent. That responsibility is heavy, but who better to carry it than one who has proven to carry that weight before?

 

My knees will hurt and my back will ache and I know that will progress with age. However, my mind can stand strong and my heart can recover from pain through discipline and endurance. I’m beginning to understand my circumstances. I was tested in that moment, but that moment was only a question within the test of time. Success and failure aren’t calibrated within one question. I am still taking the examine, which means the results aren’t in. I have become the face of a soldier who has received a Purple Heart, even if that is just personal. The next question I must answer is, how do I want to represent that?

 

Better than I am.


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