I am your co-worker and neighbor. We know each other by first names and we often exchange greetings. I extend my hand and we greet each new day in peace.
There is not one day in my life that I do not think of my fellow Marines. The year was 1967 and we were all young, strong and invincible. I thought my body was made of steel and tungsten alloys. Nothing would or could hurt me. But then I began to see my fellow Marines with no arms and legs.
My most senior flight sergeant was burned so severely that he had no ears and most of his fingers were missing. His skin was the consistency of melted and dripping candle wax. His mouth and eyelids were reconstructed from other skin tissues to resemble the originals; they appeared almost functional. Though severely scarred, he still served the corps and provided the very definition of sacrifice.
The most disturbing memory for me is not that of my senior flight sergeant or others. Rather, I am deeply overwhelmed by the sight of the lone white crosses that honor our military graves.
I wonder about these fallen service personnel and think about what their lives might have been like if they had returned home. Could they, or perhaps their children, have discovered and developed a cure for the common cold? Would they have discovered a cure for cancer or found some miracle drug that would benefit our humankind?
Sometimes I go outside my house and step into the thickness of the trees. I hide in the shadows and put my hands over my eyes. Then I cry uncontrollably for these lost brother and sisters.
My voice is small and I am but one Marine who survived. I have lived a full life. I am a brother, husband, father and friend. Behind me stand the voiceless shadows of hundreds of thousands just like me.
On this special day, please take a moment to reflect on our servicemen and -women. Give thanks for their convictions and pray for their safe return home. Attend your churches and celebrate in your particular cultural customs.
But please remember, there are civilizations that want to destroy us and the only thing keeping monsters from attacking our soil is the might of our uniformed military personnel.
Tanner served in the Marines from 1967-70. He lives in Los Banos and wrote this for a friend who also served in the Marines.