Tuesday, June 5, 2018

The Patriot

The Patriot
By Michael Cannata

            He was raised in a family that considered military service the proudest tradition they had. So, like his father and his grandfather before him, he passed on going to college and enlisted in the Marines.  He became one of the top recruits in his class.

            When he volunteered to go to Afghanistan his family, despite their tremendous pride in their son, did their best to dissuade him. He was still so young and they feared for his life a lot more than he did. He was an excellent soldier and felt, having lived in the greatest country on the planet and knowing the value of freedom, it wasn't just his duty, it was a moral obligation to do his part.

            The freedom of the people in the war torn country had been destroyed by the Taliban; Zealots who served God by imposing their extreme religious tenets on those who didn't share their absurd devotion through violence, persecution and death.

            He wasn't a believer in God. He believed that people were responsible for their fate. He wasn't content to wait for God to change things. He believed that all people, given the chance, would simply want to live their lives in peace. But those zealots and dictators that claimed to be servants of God or politics carried war into the lives of the innocent as well as the enemy.

            When he saw the condition the people were forced to live in, the hunger and the fear in their eyes, especially the eyes of the children, it just furthered his resolve to help... to fight in any way he could.

            He had made many friends on his tour, both in his unit and among the local people. One young boy in particular became one of the friendly faces that would bring a little light into the dark days. The boy's commitment to caring for his family, and his willingness to brave dangers that even soldiers would shrink from, inspired him. If a young boy was willing to fight and die for his people, he could do no less.

            For eighteen long, deadly months he fought alongside his fellow soldiers and many of the local militia against the horrors that the war inflicted on the country. He fought in many battles but experienced few victories. His hopes of making a difference in the lives of the people had faded. All the people he saw die, all the people he killed, none of it had made any difference. In the beginning He believed that America was there to help. In the end all he felt was helpless. The only people that he felt he had been any help to was the boy and his family.

            He got the welcome news that his tour was finished and he would be heading home. His family was thrilled and told him to be prepared for a hero's welcome. He made a point to find the boy and say goodbye. When he told him when he was leaving along with the other members of his unit the boy cried and promised he would be by the road to say goodbye.

            The last face he saw was that of the young boy, waving and smiling as his unit drove towards the air strip to board the flight home.  The boy ran towards him until they were almost close enough to touch hands. The boy smiled right up to the moment he detonated the suicide vest he was wearing under his clothing.

            Four of the members of his unit were killed instantly, several others were injured.

            He lay resting on the flight home where his family waited anxiously to welcome their hero… and say their goodbyes. He was buried with little ceremony and his service to his country faded in memory from his people. For all his efforts, he was still just another soldier.

            In Afghanistan, the family of the young boy was showered with praise, gifts and money. Their son had done his service to Allah and his family could live free from fear and attack from the Taliban. He was declared, Hewaad Paala, a Patriot and honored as a martyr.

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