When I was about 12, I had picked up my first piece of non-fiction in the form of a book called “Nam”, a collection of accounts by American soldiers who had gone to the Vietnam War. I suppose it was then that I had developed a certain awareness of what war does to one, in de-sensitizing a person and creating vacuums of reality where you have mundane lives and trivial celebrity gossip on one side and stressful life-death situations, torture and killing on the other.
It is hard, then, to keep your head on straight, especially when you are 20 and being exposed to realities that are so alien to everyone back home that it is no wonder that service men and women come back haunted.
And in the midst of it all, there are those beacons of light. People who guide and become the point that everyone tethers their reality to.
On Wednesday March 19, 2003, somewhere in Kuwait, Col. Tim Collins of the Royal Irish Regiment of the British Army gave a speech on the night of battle. It was something put together on the spot but was recorded in shorthand by a journalist, Sarah Oliver. It was so inspirational that a copy of it supposedly hung in the Oval Office of the White House.
This same man, decorated with the Order of the British Empire, went undercover with a young soldier for the BBC documentary “Panorama: Forgotten Heroes“. Mark, the young soldier, had been caught up with trying to deal with the guilt and fell into a life of crime, alcoholism and homelessness. He has since gotten his life turned around but for the documentary, agreed to take Col. Collins to the streets and spend a night to see what it was like.
I just wish that there were those who understood that heroes are also human and can fall hard on their faces. They are not proud of the disservice and the pain. Of the shame of standing in line for a meal. Of becoming invisible to the society they fought to protect. Of hiding their guilt in drink.
I just wish we, as a society, knew how to stretch a hand out to a fallen hero and get them back on their feet.
An adapted version was recited by Kenneth Branagh in the BBC’s “10 Days to War.”