He's a recent high-school graduate; he was probably an average student, pursued some form of sport activities, drives a ten-year-old jalopy, and has a steady girlfriend that either broke up with him when he left, or swears to be waiting when he returns from half a world away. He listens to rock and roll or hip-hop or rap or jazz and 155-mm Howitzers. He is 10 or 15 pounds lighter now than when he was at home because he is working or fighting from before dawn to well after dusk.
He has trouble spelling, and thus letter writing is a pain for him, but he can field strip a rifle in 30 seconds and reassemble it in less time in the dark.
He can recite to you the nomenclature of a machine gun or grenade launcher and use either one effectively if he must. He digs foxholes and latrines and can apply first aid like a professional. He can march until he is told to stop or stop until he is told to march.
He obeys orders instantly and without hesitation, but he is not without spirit or individual dignity or the capacity to think for himself, which may one day save his life or that of his platoon members. He is self-sufficient. He has two sets of fatigues: he washes one and wears the other. He keeps his canteens full and his feet dry.
He sometimes forgets to brush his teeth, but never to clean his rifle. He can cook his own meals, mend his own clothes, and fix his own hurts.
If you're thirsty, he'll share his water with you; if you are hungry, his food. He'll even split his ammunition with you in the midst of battle when you run low.
He has learned to use his hands like weapons and weapons like they were his hands. He can save your life or take it, because that is his job. He will often do twice the work of a civilian, draw half the pay and still find ironic humor in it all. He has seen more suffering and death in his short lifetime then he should have to see in a hundred lifetimes. He has stood atop mountains of dead bodies, and helped to create them.
He has wept in public and in private, for friends who have fallen in combat and is unashamed. He feels every note of the National Anthem vibrate through his body while at rigid attention, while tempering the burning desire to "square-away" those around him who haven't bothered to stand, remove their hat, or even stop talking.
In an odd twist, day in and day out, far from home, he defends their right to be disrespectful. Just as his Father, Grandfather, and Great-grandfather, he is paying the price for our freedom. Beardless or not, he is not a boy. He is the American Fighting Man that has kept this country free for over 200 years. He has asked nothing in return, except our friendship and understanding.
Remember him, always, for he has earned our respect and admiration with his blood.
A Letter from One of the Fallen
The following text is the last letter written by Army PFC Diego Fernando Rincon, age 19, of Conyers, Georgia, to his mother. It is dated Feb. 22, 2003 and was received March 22. Rincon was killed in Iraq in a suicide bombing seven days later. Rincon was serving with the 2-7th Infantry, 3rd Infantry Division out of Fort Stewart, Georgia. Its simple eloquence speaks volumes, and in the words echo the feelings of all soldiers in all wars. Most would not consider Rincon a poet, but in this short heartfelt letter from a young soldier to his mother resides the purest poetry, powerful enough to move much older men to tears.
Left: 1944 a helmet and rifle mark the grave of a dead GI in Germany's Hürtgen Forest.
Right: 2003 a helmet, rifle, and boots on display before the funeral of a GI killed in Iraq.