5.8.05

FOURTH TURNING ALERT. International Herald Tribune guest columnist Capt. Rory B. Quinn pays tribute to his fallen colleagues.

These young Americans are being redefined. For [Captain] John [Maloney], as for all our service members, the definition of a "normal" life has been changed in a way that's almost impossible for others to comprehend. The implications for America are profound.

In four months spent last year near Iraq's border with Syria, I was exposed to the full gamut of emotions and experiences typical of any modern combat tour. I saw corrupt, wicked men captured or killed by 19-year-old Americans who possessed maturity in applying different levels of force that left me in awe. 11 years ago when I was their age, I wouldn't have held a candle to our 19 year-olds of today.

On patrol last year, I saw one old friend and 17 new ones killed by sniper's bullets, exploding artillery shells or hidden land mines. I grieved in the desert and saw 900 comrades do the same. Then I saw our marines lock their grief and rage behind a mental door and go back out the gate to patrol again. On those very next patrols, I saw looks of utter joy in the eyes of Iraqi children when I'd hand them a soccer ball, or when one of my marines would mimic a salute at a child pretending to be an Iraqi Patton or Schwarzkopf.

Through it all, our countrymen have been imprinted with a new perspective on life. Much like the returning veterans of World War II, they stepped off the plane with a sense of how petty or unimportant many of the seemingly pressing issues covered in the news media truly are. Compared to the shock of the instant, violent death of a squad-mate standing right next to me, or the excitement of a child looking at my uniform, the constant barrage of partisan politics, runaway brides and the activities of Paris Hilton seem utterly devoid of importance. I have marines slowly recuperating at hospitals in San Francisco, Washington, Bethesda and San Diego. Who is telling their stories?

And the work they have done:
For all the mistakes in planning that have been made in this war, and all the acts of heroism that have (or more often have not) been reported, this war is transforming young Americans. We are forming a new "greatest generation" that will counteract the obsession with one's self that has characterized the last few decades.
And the shape of the world to come.
If the policy makers and politicians choose the right path, if they spend our lives wisely, this global war on terror will be a Normandy, and not a Vietnam. Through the actions of our service members and the sacrifices of our Maloneys, we are transforming Iraq. As we return home, we are also transforming the face of America.
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