I don’t know every detail of the full story. Just the important ones.
Sitting in some room somewhere, no idea where home was or wasn’t for having travelled too far from it to know, and almost done with your time in the United States Army, they asked you to join an elite tactical division of Special Forces. The Cold War was beginning to thaw, your time serving a country to which you did not officially belong was coming to a close, and I imagine what they offered you was tempting.
I always pictured you, a still-young man, sitting in a plastic chair in a room with flourescent lights and suspended ceilings, perhaps somewhere in Germany where you served most of your time, a Sergeant telling you from across a table that they wanted you. Telling you all that could mean for your future. I always pictured it as a short conversation because of the way you told the story: short, sweet, and to the point — “in, out, done, gone” as you would say in my childhood as we ran to the grocery store or similar errand, as though this decision of yours was nothing to dwell on.
I don’t know how long you deliberated over that decision.
But I know why you chose “no, thank you”, snapping a photo of your dirty, worn-out standard issue boots in the bin on your last day as you packed your single suitcase up from your years of service and headed instead for college.
You decided that no man has ever seen enough of life to act on high-tier, morally-complicated orders without a second thought, and that decision was respected.
I think you knew, ultimately, that entering Special Forces meant that you would have to carry out whichever high-tier, high-stakes orders you were given indiscriminately of your view of right and wrong. You weighed this in light of the worst possible scenario and the best: knowing that while you had already demonstrated the ability to do take orders, but that, had your superior required it in a special operations task force, you would have had no choice but to kill, to drive, to do.
I have seen your choice follow you as the shadows I watch flicker on your face peel away at your stoicism — the way you looked at the television screen, unblinking, as CNN replayed the falling towers in September of 2001 — again. And again. And again, like bullets every time. Mom, preparing me on the drive home from my middle school’s resulting early-dismissal “Just letting you know. Today, your Dad wishes he were still in the army. Be quiet when we get home, understand? He’s hurtin’, boy”.
These days, I see the contempt which underlies your countenance as you watch poison gas take the lives of children, as refugees die senselessly, as world leaders bandy about with their fingers on the button, disgracing the two folded flags already lining the shelves of our home.
Many days I wished I would grow up to have served, just like you, but saw that you had chosen a different path for a better reason. I by no means think you dwell on what it would have been like if you had said yes. But for the moments when you do, know this.
Thank you for your service to our country and for your service to represent what that truly means: standing behind the nation for the role you are committed to without following blindly. Thank you for saying ‘no’ when saying ‘yes’ held strong potential for compromise of the right thing to do.
Thank you for saying no.
And thank you for being my Dad.