Examining it, Senator Dole says, “You were lucky.”
“We ended up killing we think about 60 Al Qaeda that day.”
“Oh good,” said Senator Dole.
“But we lost one of our own as well.”
“Yeah, that’s terrible. War is hell. Wars are not a good thing. But I guess sometimes they’re necessary.” In his book, Senator Dole described the reticence of veterans to recount their combat experiences. “They simply don’t want to go back there to the killing and the death, the sights, sounds and smells of war, the bombed-out towns, doorways that open into nothing but rubble, images of shredded bodies, the vestiges of which will live forever in their hearts and minds.” Even with each other, we veterans tend to leave these impressions unspoken.
“Senator, I brought you a copy of the book I wrote,” I said, producing a hardback copy of my memoir of my time in the Army, The Unforgiving Minute: A Soldier’s Education.
“Did you sign it?” he asked.
“Of course, sir.”
I explained that the title was from, “If,” a favorite Rudyard Kipling poem. Kipling wrote, “If you can fill the unforgiving minute with 60 seconds’ worth of distance run, yours is the Earth and everything that's in it. And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!” Kipling wrote the poem for his son who later went missing in action in World War I.
In signing his copy of my book, I wrote, “You have more than filled the Unforgiving Minute in your distinguished career. Climb to Glory,” the 10th Mountain Division motto.
“Thank you,” said Senator Dole, accepting the gift.
“I didn’t come back with physical wounds,” I said. “But I came back with other wounds. And I wanted to write this book for Evan O’Neill, a soldier in my platoon who didn’t make it home. And to be able to tell his parents about his heroism. And how much that private inspired this lieutenant.”
An unexpected benefit of writing my book was a public platform to connect ordinary people with the stories and experiences of soldiers like Evan. After 18 years of conflict since 9/11, less than 1 percent of Americans have served in the military. As a society, we bear a moral obligation to practically honor the sacrifices of our veterans and family members.