The day after Veterans Day.
This is a true story except Jimmy is not his name.
Jimmy looked through the door at me, waiting to recognize him. “Who is that behind those glasses?” I asked as I tried to peer up close through the sunglasses. He pulled the glasses down and put the end of one temple in his mouth. He was a little heavier than I remembered–something that often happens to my students after they are out of school for a couple of years. I recognized Jimmy, “But your last name has slipped me.” When he told me his last name I remembered that he liked my ninth grade science class and that I liked him and that he was a quiet and gentle boy.
Jimmy came from a big family and like most everyone else around they weren’t well off. His eyes looked tired or confused or weak or ready to blow a gasket. They looked like the fatigue I have felt after driving ten hours on the interstate. On his head was an army fatigue hat with two medals on it. One said grenade and the other said rifle.
“Where you been, the army?”
“Yeah, I just got out. They gave me a general discharge.”
His hair was short and his beard was shaved close. He had looked a lot better with the beard. His eyes kept calling me back. I could see something was wrong – was he stoned or about to have a nervous breakdown. I didn’t think he was one of the kids who smoked marijuana.
I decided not to let the general discharge pass. I knew it probably meant he was kicked out of the army. That’s their “subtle” way of telling the world that this man isn’t a man. So I asked, “What happened, how come you got a general discharge instead of an honorable discharge, did something go wrong?”
“They put me down for a general after I talked to them. Army life wasn’t for me. I didn’t like that style of life. I qualified on everything.” He said and pointed at the two medals on his cap. “It wasn’t the training, I could do that. I just didn’t like the style of life. Army life wasn’t for me.”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“They taught you to kill. They talked about killing a lot. The whole barracks wanted to go to Libya and kill. There was a guy who was a Christian when he got there and he told me to slap him if he ever cussed like everybody else. So the first time he cussed I slapped him but after about three weeks he told me to quit slapping him. He started cussing like all the others. They completely changed him. They’ve got to change you if they are going to get you to perform in a war. You’ve got to be able to go in there and kill without thinking anything about it. You won’t be any good if you don’t.”
“Or you will be too good.” I interjected.
“They said you would be doing them a favor if you killed them because you would be helping them to die for their country and their government would give the family money and take good care of them and they would go to heaven for dying for their cause.
“The captain called me in about three times to try to get at me for wanting out. All I could do was say yes sir and no comment sir. He would say things like, ‘You saying that my religion is wrong?’ He told me that killing them was just helping them out.
“Those other guys wanted to go over there and kill Libyans. I told them I was staying right here, I wasn’t going nowhere.”
Jimmy’s shirt came into focus. It said Fort Benning, Georgia. There were shiny U.S. insignia on both collars. He was dressed in military protest style. It was like he was saying “I was tough enough, I got my medals.”
“They took my uniform, my dress greens and everything. I don’t care, I don’t want it anyway.”
I would have loved for the recruiter, who is often at the school looking for more low income soldiers to die for the rich, to have walked up about then.