Back in 2005, I was living near a small, rural town. That same year, a soldier from that small town was killed in an IED attack in Iraq. I still think about him from time-to-time, particularly on days like Memorial Day.
The soldier and I never knew one another. I had never even known of him until I learned of his death. He was 22-years-old; no older than a freshly graduated college kid. And his hometown was like so many other rural places across the nation: unknown and surrounded by country homes, farmland, woodlands, and fields filled with grass, or crops, or wildflowers. He had never married and he had no children.
Islamic terrorists had killed the soldier in an IED—improvised explosive device—attack on his unit. I don’t know if American forces ever got them.
Time, of course, has kept flying on, and he remains forever young while everyone else ages. His fellow soldiers have now married and have kids. Some of those kids are rapidly approaching adulthood. A few may already be there. And a fewer still may have even joined the Army, fighting in the same war he fought in.
What would this soldier’s life have been like had he lived? Who would’ve he married and how many kids would he have had? What would they be like? What would he be like? He’d almost be 40.
A few months ago, a veteran reminisced on Twitter about the tour he did in Afghanistan when he was a much younger man. He has a wife and a family now, and his life is much different. You could sense he’s a changed man. And he hinted that he found it hard to believe that he had once been a soldier. Time alters everything—including who we are. And we often don’t even understand our younger selves.
I wonder what the soldier from the small town would’ve thought of his younger self. How much would he have changed from then until today?
There are many other small-town soldiers and troops who were killed in action. We’ll never know about most of them. But I still think about them from time-to-time, and I wonder about what their lives would be like.
Paul Hair is a veteran of the Iraq War. Top Image: © 2021, Paul Hair.