As we stood in line to hand Mr. Lusk our jerseys – the same jersey his son had once worn in brotherhood – it was a true moment of awe. We had lost a friend, a brother and a teammate in an instant, in the duration of one phone call. With tears running down the faces of all those present, we placed our jerseys in his arms one by one.
Then, a peculiar object was handed to Jack’s dad. It wasn’t the black and orange that screamed Pennsbury Ultimate; there were no falcons or cacti or trees on it, all symbols that had represented the many teams who stood behind Jackson “Beard” Lusk.
Instead, placed delicately into the waiting arms of Jack’s father was a plain white navy hat.
That hat stood for more than just a division of the U.S. military forces. It stood for more than just the young, brave, charming young lad who owned it. It stood for change, for life, for death, for honor, for time.
In that moment, I reflected quietly on the military men who had influenced my life. I thought of Mr. Robert Glass, a green beret who had lived across the street from me in my youth; a man who had given me the early inklings of what it is to be a man; a father figure who had given me friends and family and even a comforting second home.
As a maggot in training, I was one of a few of Mr. Glass’ surrogate military children. I spent as many hours across the street under his roof as I did under my own. For years, I was the youngest of a group of boys who followed him on Mischief Night military missions filled with smoke grenades and ladders and toilet paper. We embarked on secret missions armed with super soakers and bb-guns, crammed into everything from mini-vans to Jeeps.
But, as the military often rings up memories of death, so does the topic of Mr. Glass. He was a hero lost too soon, a father whose life ended with a teary eyed salute from his eldest son.
Then, in the image of that navy hat, I see the angry face of my former teammate and captain. A man on the verge of enlisting, with such ferocity and competitiveness in his demeanor that I have little doubt he will succeed in an organization deemed “the armed forces.” It is the same organization that has already turned his twin brother into a machine, a top-of-the-line soldier in the thick of the Middle East as we speak.
There, resting idly at the top of our jerseys, the hat has me consider its owner – the teammate and friend and confidant who left the comfort of his home, his parents’ financial support and the warm weather and beautiful women of Florida to take a stand for something he believes in.
I consider the many reasons people join the military: some, as you may expect, have no other choice.
There are users and criminals and dropouts who see the Marine core or the army as an escape – a fresh start.
There are men who have found more value in what hangs between their legs than what sits between their ears – born with a toughness so gritty and concrete they strike fear into their companions.
There are also the tech nerds and brilliant Americans who join with the expectation of serving their country behind a computer, within the safety of our own borders.
There are the athletes who know they’d be better at scaling walls and shooting automatic weapons than they would be at taking notes and filing papers.
There are the patriots whose loyalty stands only with the red, white and blue, ready to do anything and everything for the protection of our country’s stance as a world power – a power that aims to reflect democracy and freedom for all individuals.
And I’m sure there are others – those whose reasons for joining the military are beyond me. Family histories and personal experience can drive a man to any decision, no matter how foreign or dangerous or illogical it may seem to anyone else.
And here this navy hat sat, a reminder that I had a lost a friend in the depths of hell called addiction, a reminder that I had a friend who was willing to face the depths of hell called war.
On May 14th of this year, I will be celebrating my 21st birthday. On that same day, Mike Auld and his white navy hat will deploy for Afghanistan – a land I can neither fathom nor ignore, a place analyzed so thoroughly in American politics and discussion that I admit honestly our need for the Mike Auld’s of this world to be there sometimes seems asinine.
But, while I may wonder at the politics of war, I never wonder at the kind of a man it takes to survive it. My choice to go to college instead of joining the military had much more to do with choice of passion than fear of war, but there are certainly those that fear things military men don’t.
So, when I raise my glass to 21 years of life and the immeasurable joy in being a legal consumer of alcohol, in the back of mind that plain, white navy hat will sit; a representation of change, life, death, honor and time. It will stare at me with the same cold, calculating gaze that a sniper may stare down his enemy.
Yet, with it I will have nothing but pride in those things in represents. Pride that I survived change, life, death, and time – that I may have even survived those things with honor. I will have pride that a man who once introduced me to the band Dispatch could one day be a General himself, standing tall with bravery in the name of our nation. I will have pride in our country, knowing that it found someone who has earned my infinite respect, someone that I’m confident will fight the good fight, and – when given the choice – will do the right thing.
On this birthday, I will celebrate not just my life, but the life of Mr. Glass and Mike Auld and all those that fall in between.
“Honor is simply the morality of superior men.”
For the Glass family, Jack Lusk, the memories, those that continue to serve with honor, and for Mike Auld; stay safe brother. Keep that head on a swivel.