You led me into quite an adventure!—wow! how I found out for myself such exotic stuff as warriors’ codes, such exclusive names as jarheads, gyrenes, leathernecks, devil dogs 🙂
It’s good to have met you. It will take one in a million more chances to meet another one like you. And you have asked for my help! Miracle!
You would smile when you’re embarrassed coming late to class—and even with real amusement, haha!—when I was lambasting some classmate of yours for not paying attention to the lecture, or when I would loudly lament the poor responses to the lessons that show as low marks in the tests.
I pray that God will always take care of you.
You said you’re not brave. I believed you. You said you’d just be doing your job if you’re called again to war. I believed you. I have no more illusions left when it comes to humans facing their “moments of truth.” For although I’ve had only a few of them myself, I have heard and read of and seen such circumstances happening. I was even private into the sentiments of the actors.
I was taking chances when I asked you directly: “Have you killed a human being?” And your body language when you answered me, directly, told all of the anguish which accompanied something you simply had to do and of how difficult it was to answer that question.
Take care. Do what you have to do. I know of a Being who is with you in whatever you do. Hasta la vista, mi amigo.
Ma’am Mona (Iloilo City, written 20 October 2002)
The story behind the letter:
John, not his real name, was my student in College Algebra. I was drawn to his aura because he looked different from the rest. He was a “delinquent” algebra student, as half of the class was, haha!, simply because it was algebra, which is something I can perfectly understand and so have nothing against those who struggle in it. However, as a teacher of 40 students I was urging everyone to reach the minimum requirements of the course so that they could be done with it, and so be able to move on to their major courses. I especially felt for this group because many were trying to finish an agriculture degree.
Eventually John had to ask for my help, which I responded to. I wish all my other students who needed help did as he did—asked for help. In the States this is something normal. Even in ADMU (Ateneo de Manila University) where the kind-hearted President Fr. Ben Nebres was my teacher, this was also normal. But alas, not so among my many algebra students. Perhaps they did not have extra time for extra lessons. I’m sure there are other more valid reasons. The only avenue for urging students to do better, then, was in the classroom during class. Hence, class lectures were also sometimes emotional times for me. John would smile a bit whenever I sounded anxious for my students, and especially when the topic was a bit complicated.
John came to see me as a teacher-confidante for that semester. He would talk to me as a friend, not for long lengths, but enough for me to see that many things he was sharing with me were not free-for-all. On my part, I was basically at awe of talking to somebody who has been to a real war. John took part in the campaign in Bosnia-Herzegovina two decades ago or so.
Instead of badgering him for more information, I turned to books. There I was able to learn many things about the world of the USMC. What remained with me now is the clarity of the reason why the USMC fellows of the small groups are able to go through the horrors of an engagement: because they look out for each other, because they have to take care of each other, because they have each other’s backs, because they are in it together, dead or alive. In not so many words John was able to convey this fundamental truth to me. The person in the war is a non-abstract actor, this I came to see.
I hope John is now happily tilling his farmland somewhere and rearing up beautiful children. He deserves a good life.
Featured Image on top: U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Isaiah Gomez/Released 190427-M-JQ384-1078.JPG
(June 20, 2019) A U.S. Marine rifle squad with Headquarters and Support Battalion, Marine Corps Installations East-Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, pauses for a moment of silence during the Vietnam Veterans Recognition Day Ceremony at the Onslow Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Lejeune Memorial Gardens, Jacksonville, North Carolina, April 27, 2019. The ceremony honored the memory of those who died during the war and celebrated the accomplishments and perseverance of Vietnam-era veterans. (https://www.marines.mil/Photos/igphoto/2002147602/igcategory/Veterans/)