They Were Just Kids

David said to Saul, “Let no one lose heart on account of this Philistine; your servant will go and fight him.”
Saul replied, “You are not able to go out against this Philistine and fight him; you are only a young man, and he has been a warrior from his youth.”

  • 1 Samuel 17:32-33

When Rehoboam arrived in Jerusalem, he mustered all Judah and the tribe of Benjamin—a hundred and eighty thousand able young men—to go to war against Israel and to regain the kingdom for Rehoboam son of Solomon.

  • 1 Kings 12:21

A few weeks ago, I suppose by the time this comes out, they published the names, ranks, and ages of the thirteen American soldiers who lost their lives in the suicide bombing.  There were too many that came before, but no one wants to be the “last.”  Someone, maybe another blogger, maybe my wife, said, “They were just kids.”  The oldest was 31-years-old.

If it was my wife who made that statement, she tried not to remember that she joined the US Air Force soon after her nineteenth birthday.  She served during Vietnam, and she was given the option as to whether she wanted to go to Vietnam.  Women were given the option in those days.  She chose to stay in the USA.  She went to one of the three main military hospitals that received injured soldiers, sailors, and airmen from Vietnam.  She worked as a technician in surgery, MOS: medic.  After having a wonderful head of nursing, a new head of nursing came in, one that had a reputation of being harsh, maybe abusive.  The new head of nursing saw a young person under her command who was of mixed race, thought she looked like she might be Vietnamese, and my wife was hounded by constant surgical call, nights and weekends, without any breaks, until my wife broke.  With few hours of sleep, scattered over months of abuse, she collapsed and spent months in the hospital, the same hospital where the nursing staff was run by the abuser, the head of nursing, who doctored my wife’s official medical records to state that whatever my wife suffered from, she had the problem prior to enlistment.  At 22-years-old, my wife was glad to be out of the military.  She was still broken to an extent, and she still suffers from a mild case of PTSD, as if any case is “mild.”  Her problem?  She saw all the suffering and empathically shared in that suffering.  She cared.  And after appealing her case for veterans benefits after being denied, we were turned down with a message to never file again, due to “prior existing conditions” and who can argue against an LTC, honorably discharged and retired and passed away a few years ago?  There were two “SE Asian looking” under the LTC’s command and the other committed suicide. My wife is proud of her service, but she wants to forget it ever happened.  That service thing was a young person who did not even know her rights.

My wife knew what she was getting into when she became an officer’s wife, but even then, it brought back bad memories.  She made sure that I never mistreated my men.  I left active duty prior to my 29th birthday.  I was a captain, and I had about 200 people under my supervision with several million-dollar contracts that I managed.  In the civilian world, I was asked to forget all that and start at the bottom.  My military career suddenly became a handicap.

The average age of Congressional Medal of Honor recipients is 26-years-old, counting all recipients.  The Army recipients are younger, 25, while the Air Force is older, 33, the others in between.  Dwight Eisenhower was in his mid-50s at the end of World War II and George Patton turned 60 just after the war, but they were generals, career Army.  Most of the troops are teen-agers and low 20-somethings.  As for officers, most get commissioned out of college at about 22-years-old and if they are not a Lt. Colonel by about 36-37 years old, they will be forced out.  So, practically all the officers, except for the general grade, are younger than 40.  My sons are older than that.

The weird thing is the lowly second lieutenants. They are usually assigned as a platoon leader, fresh out of college at 21-22 years old, and possibly half your platoon has years of military experience and is older, but just by a year or two except for the senior sergeants. I was 25, a first lieutenant, fresh out of graduate school, but half my platoon consisted of Vietnam veterans who were older. Awkward, but they looked out for me until I felt comfortable.

And the civilian world thinks that you gained too much responsibility, too fast, and you won’t be able to manage that in the civilian world.  You are taught by the civilians that you do not fit in.

They are just kids?!  Hardly ever.  They have aged quickly.  They have suffered more hardships than most civilians in their 60s.  They have lost more sleep than Rip van Winkle ever got, okay maybe not that much.  Twenty years of solid sleep equates to 60 years old at 8 hours per day.  But after a week or two of sleeping with one eye open, it feels like you haven’t slept in 20 years.  And catching up on sleep is impossible in that you clean and maintain everything when you first get back.

We have a lot of career civilians out there that are forty plus years of age, and they are still trying to “find themselves.”  We have veterans, forgotten by the business world, their friends, and their families – veterans who know too much about this cruel world, and they just want to be … lost.

On Memorial Day, we “celebrate” those who did not return from our wars, foreign or domestic.  On Veteran’s Day, we celebrate those who made it home.  At least, physically made it home.  Captain Kangaroo, a World War II veteran himself, used to say that every day is Mother’s Day.  I would like to see the veterans get what they deserve, which includes counselling and support to assimilate back into civilian life.  If it takes every day being Veteran’s Day, then so be it.

You can see many references in the Bible to young warriors, but the only way to become an old warrior is to survive the battles when you are young.

I heard a panel of pastors discuss a question about war.  We cannot eliminate the wars that the Israelites fought in the Old Testament.  And they all point to a spiritual battle that each of us faces.

But in that spiritual battle, we have Christ in our heart.  We do not fight the battle alone.  And victory in battle earns us maturity.  Just as these fallen soldiers are far from being “just kids,” we grow up when we fight our spiritual battles.  They are necessary for growth.  We need that resistance.  We need those tests of faith.

And one day, God will welcome us, “Welcome, good and faithful servant.”

Soli Deo Gloria.  Only to God be the Glory.

8 Comments

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  1. Your wife was an angel of mercy and deserved better treatment than she got, but she has kept her compassionate heart in spite of it.❤️

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I am grateful to you and to your wife for your service.

    Liked by 1 person

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