Homesickness abated by remembering

Thomas J. Lucente Jr.

CAMP VIRGINIA, Kuwait — Another Veterans Day.
Last year at this time, I was sitting comfortably at home in Ohio, going about my life, bowling a couple of nights a week, playing poker every Wednesday night, drinking my fair share of George Killian’s Irish Red and just basically living my life.
Today, I am living in a tent in the desert, carrying an M-16A2 assault rifle with me wherever I go. I have been going to the bathroom in a plastic porta-john for the past seven months and taking a shower in a trailer. Instead of beer, I drink water, a must if you are to survive in the desert.
I eat disgusting food that wouldn’t pass muster at an American prison. The best night at the dining facility — which is a trailer now but used to be tents until recently — is when we Americans are fed Mexican food or lasagna prepared by Nepalese cooks and served by Egyptians and Filipinos.
I must say, my life has become surreal.
I sleep in a tent, yet I have Internet access and a laptop in that tent. We went a month without hot water, yet we have cell phones. We have e-mail, but I can’t find a fax machine to save my life. The temperatures still surpass the 100s during the days (but nothing like the 130s we were experiencing in July and August), yet it is so cold at night we must wear jackets.
It’s the little things in life that you miss the most. Porcelain commodes, for example. Grass. Trees. People not trying to kill you.
I am not one prone to homesickness. I am pretty much at home, wherever I happen to find myself. But the only time I really felt any twinge of homesickness was when one co-worker sent me an e-mail talking about a recent night of bowling. It was so normal that it gave me pause and made me realize there are things I do miss.
Still, it is hard to complain. I was never one to watch a lot of movies. However, I find myself doing just that. I have probably bought close to 100 DVDs during the past seven months. In that collection are two World War II movies, “Saving Private Ryan” and “Memphis Belle.” I also have “Platoon,” a movie about the Vietnam War, and “Gladiator,” a movie about a Roman soldier.
Here in Kuwait we joke about how war is hell when our Internet goes down (which is quite frequently), or when the air-conditioning goes out in our tents. And there was a lot of complaining when we were promised leave and then leave was canceled.
Still, it seems almost petty when confronted with the reality of our situation compared to soldiers of the past. In “Saving Private Ryan,” it was clear how important mail was. In fact, it appeared to be the only real connection soldiers had with their families.
Now we have instant messaging, electronic mail and cellular telephones.
Our morale took another blow when our yearlong tour was extended to mean a year in theater, which equates to 18 months active duty or more for many Reservists and Guardsmen.
Still, that is nothing. Many of the soldiers in World War II were gone for three years or longer. In “Gladiator,” Gen. Maximus tells his friend he has not been home in nearly three years.
“Memphis Belle” reminded me of the death toll of previous wars. Here in the Middle East, we talk about soldiers being killed one or two at a time. Deaths were measured by the thousands in World War II, Korea and Vietnam.
But these are the sacrifices soldiers make when they decided to take up arms to defend their people.
And it is those very sacrifices we honor on Veterans Day.
The Department of Veterans Affairs says Veterans Day is meant to remind us to thank a living veteran for his or her service. With an estimated 3,000 World War II veterans dying every day, it is even more important to thank those veterans in particular, for saving the world from the ravages of fascism.
So to all you veterans, old and young alike, thank you for raising your right hand and vowing with your life to defend the people of the United States. Your government might not always appreciate your sacrifices, but the people do. And that is what is important.

Thomas J. Lucente Jr. is the editorial page editor of The Lima (Ohio) News, a Freedom Communications newspaper. He is a member of the Ohio National Guard and has been serving in Kuwait since April.