Saturday, January 01, 2011

May God spare this band of cousins

Someone always fought his battles for him. Still are.

Father: Europe. U.S. Army Air Forces. Survived.
Dead now.

Father-in-law: The Pacific. U.S. Marine Corps. Survived.
Dead now.

Brother-in-law: Vietnam. U.S. Army. Survived.

And there have been so many more, those he knew or knows and mostly those he never knew or doesn't know.The man himself doesn't know the first thing about fighting a battle for himself, other than what he knows from the movies or miniseries or the books they were based on. And the news reports still coming in from the battles that are still being fought on his behalf. About four years ago, he didn't know how to fight an ersatz battle in the woods, an Airsoft game called “Capture the flag.”Two flags, two teams, two bases. From the official rules: “Each airsoft team is trying to retrieve the opposing team's flag and return it to their base without getting eliminated.”“Eliminated” means that you've been hit with a plastic airsoft BB bullet. Positions are assigned: attackers, guards, scouts. An airsfot player carrying the flag of his team who is “eliminated” must drop the flag immediately. Then someone else must fight the battle for him. What surprised the man wasn't the complexity of the game or its rigors. What surprised him was that his grandson, then about 12, knew how to fight a battle and knew how to command the old guy whom the boy called “Peepaw” when he was a lad of about 4, by which time he was already into weaponry — making his own if necessary. The man was on Ethan's team, paired against a team with two other grandsons. Each knew precisely what his role would be. They fought in a six-acre theater of war, on terrain as hilly as central Oklahoma can be, bulging with trees, some big enough to hide behind, to avoid “elimination.”Jacob and Andrew were on the enemy team. The man, Ethan's teammate, was in his early 50s. He didn't know what to do, where to be. Ethan did know and barked commands like E Company's Dick Winters. Dick Winters: U.S. Army 101st Airborne Division. Inspiration for “Band of Brothers.” Survived. Dead now, as of Jan. 2. These children were playing at war and playing to win. They anticipated the enemy's moves. They attacked when prudent and laid low when necessary. It was short, as battles go, and bloodless.Who won doesn't matter. What matters is what the man learned from it: That these boys have leadership skills he didn't know they had. That they have the instincts to survive a battle and also the guts not to run from one.This band of cousins gathered back at the house and the older two talked of real war and how they might one day have to fight in one. They knew the law would require them to register with Selective Service, just as the man himself had done when he turned 18 and there was a real draft and there was a real war. Ethan is 16 now, his passion for weaponry largely drummed out of him by a more recent interest in making music. Jacob is nearly 17, a year from his date with the draft board. He still enjoys playing at airsoft war and would probably make a good soldier.But may God spare all three of my grandsons from elimination while fighting a real battle on my behalf.

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