Ghost Riders In The Sky
Commentary by: Bill the Butcher
There are three holidays honoring our men and women in uniform. Veterans Day, to honor those who defended America and came home. Armed Forces Day for those still out there, and Memorial Day for those forever there. Those who never came home.
But Memorial Day should have an added component. Those who came home, but are still over there. It has come in many names. Shell shock, battle fatigue and PTSD. The war that never ends. A war of the mind. And it’s victims are forever on point. Some make a choice and become ghost riders in the sky.
You’ve seen them. Standing on street corners. The uniform has become a tattered fatigue jacket. The military cut has long since grown a beard. You may wonder where they live, where they sleep. There was a time that they slept in a hole in the ground.
They went without question. Without pause. The equipment they carried daily could be as heavy as seventy to a hundred pounds, but what came home with them was oh, so much heavier. When you see them on that corner you drive on by. Someone may say that they are professional street bums. Part of a large group, working the corner they’ve been assigned. Surmise that they have a Mercedes hidden just around the corner. This is an abundance of misinformation and lies. This is just a way to avoid handing a dollar out of the window.
But, they didn’t always look like that. Back in ‘69 I worked for the army. I was in high school and every summer I’d have a job at Fort Hood. It was called the Youth Opportunity Corps. They trained me as a tailor. I worked in the clothing issue point. Every day long lines of soldiers would arrive, and I would fit them for dress slacks. Then they’d proceed down the line for a jacket, shoes and hat. Then they’d go to Vietnam. Why in the hell did they need dress greens for that?
I remember all their young faces. Just out of high school. Being sent to Vietnam for their senior trip. Over fifty thousand of them never made the trip back home, and a number of them now stand on that street corner you just rushed by. They are all my age now. It ain’t long for any of us. But America is real good at providing reinforcements. Returning from places like Iraq and Afghanistan, they come back with the same luggage those who returned from Saigon came home with. And those who didn’t go there rush by them and tell their little girls not to look.
So why do I call them ghost riders? Ever hear that time worn phrase Dead Man Walking? Here’s some more for you. Dead Man on a Street Corner. Dead Man Without a Home. Dead Man Who’s Lost All Hope. PTSD is a kinder, friendlier term. It really helps if you use just the initials. That way the disorder can hide among all the other disorders so prevalent today. But there is no polite way to treat away the memories of war. Of charging a machine gun nest with a pistol and a grenade to save your squad. And come home with the pops still ringing in your ears. All soldiers know what the pop is. It’s not the sound of the gun. It’s the bullets breaking the sound barrier as it passes by your ears. Could’ve been you. Could’ve been today!
He didn’t come home to a parade. There was no V day. That’s because there was no victory. There was only survival. Hopefully his family greeted him, but before long it became apparent that something was wrong. A small part of him was still there. A part was not with them. There is no get togethers with friends. He’d changed. He was different. The ones that he’d left behind had moved on with their lives. And the ones he’d left over there, or returned with him were either dead, or, like him as good as dead, just waiting for their number to come up.
He had tried to make a new start. So many new starts. But all the while he was getting older, and the strong young warrior became an old man. He lost his wife. Oh, she understood, but figured she’d understand better with someone else. And the kids? He couldn’t live there. So he chose the street, and that corner you saw him at. Dead Man Standing.
He checks into a cheap motel. Spending his last sixteen dollars, he rents a room. Spartan, poorly cleaned. The shower doesn’t work, but that’s OK. He won’t be needing it. He sits on the bed and takes a half pint of wine from his old fatigue jacket. From the other pocket he retrieves a Colt 1911 .45 semi automatic pistol. The only thing of any real value he has left. It protected him in war. It was with him as his life spiraled out of control, and now it will save him from the demons in his head. A final drink from the bottle, he racks the pistol one more time. Then, in a room where no curtains ever hung, Spec 4 John Doe reports for his last command, and becomes one more Ghost Rider in the Sky. Thank you for your service, sir!
About The Author: Bill the Butcher is the purveyor of The Butcher Shop which is a collection of independent writers ranging from journalists to op/ed, from conservative to liberal. Whatever cut of literary meat you prefer the Butcher Shop is here to serve.
Also by Bill the Butcher: The Art Of The Gun
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