Mary was packing her things. She was, at the age of 84, leaving her home of 57 years. So many memories. Moving to a vibrant independent living community, to try and re-establish a normal social life, and make the most of her days such as they are now.
I was helping her. Got her cane, some warm coats, and as many houseplants as we could carry. I took a cell-phone-photo of the handprints that she had us kids paint on the wall in the hallway, when I was 8 years old. What a fun, simple, time. Rummaging thru the linen closet in the hall, I found two pages of headlines that my father presumably saved, from Wednesday, September 12th, 2001. Our world changed that day.
The Daily News headline read "HORROR!"
The New York Times, succinctly read, "U.S. ATTACKED".
I took those newspaper clippings out to my truck and threw them under the seat for safekeeping. Sort of hidden out of site, for some reason. That's just the way it is now. I guess you could call it a 'new normal'? After nineteen years of war. But something in me still holds the memory of that day in reverence. No way I could relegate those dusty old papers to the trash heap, weather anybody was looking or not.
Two days later, me and Blue Eyes were sitting down getting ready to eat some pizza and settle in for the evening, when I got a text from an Iraq War Marine Veteran friend. Manny. "What's up Brother? If your in town tonight, I have two tickets to the play 'Last Out: Elegy of a Green Beret' ". Having never heard of it I did a quick search on the handheld. Looked interesting. Good reviews. Veterans serving as the majority of the cast and crew, intriguing, actually. At least to me. I thought 'yeah, what the heck', and The Boss approved... So I texted back, "We're in".
At these kind of events there is usually a large Veteran presence. That was actually a big part of the allure for me. And as it turned out I saw friends in the audience. Vietnam Veteran Pat Murphy. And Jon Church, a Veteran of Iraq, Bosnia/Kosovo, and I think one other campaign. Both men larger than life figures to me. Jon, coincidentally, was at BIAP in Baghdad at the same time that I was there.
The evening's program explained that one of the purpose's of the play is, "To inform civilians on the cost of war". I figured that meant this show was not going to be a snooze. Nineteen years of war, played out in ninety minutes. It moved fast. And it started with an announcement to warn of the profanity and some of the other somewhat off-putting aspects of the portrayal of war. Like loud noises or other things that could trigger someone with Post Traumatic Stress. Once it really got going, a tissue probably would have come in handy, for some emotional moments (well, if your a big baby like me, anyways...). The acting was pretty good in my humble estimation. Remember, these guys and Gals lived thru some of it. Among the Veterans in the cast is the writer and star of the show playing the part of MSG Danny Patton, Scott Mann, a retired Green Beret Lt Col.
Still, I'm a little hesitant to 'play critic', of this stage production, script, or acting. Not sure I'm qualified. Also, I'm attempting to avoid too many plot spoilers, in case any readers go see the play in 2020. Now, I thought I was ready for what ever they'd throw at me. I couldn't have been more wrong. As in war, the whole show was pretty heavy, start to finish. And, as in war, the aftermath was totally unexpected. There were some real surprises in the Q&A session, with the cast, at the conclusion of the show.
Events of 9-11 are prominent in the play. As I watched the Pentagon scene unfold, there seemed some synchronicity in finding Dads old clippings from September 11th, a couple days before. Really, I guess those clippings were a reminder. A reminder that never having been to New York, I think I always had some difficulty in getting my head around the magnitude of the attacks that day. Scott Mann's story, as he explained in a Q&A afterward (that they reportedly do at every show), includes his real life experience of having had his best friend killed in the Pentagon on 9-11. In this performance, and in the script he wrote, I felt that cost.
Also, during the Q&A, cast member Len Bruce (who is also a former Green Beret), introduced audience members Jim & Peggy Grissom. The Gold Star parents of Green Beret SFC James F. Grissom. SFC Grissom passed away at Landstuhl, Germany, on March 21, 2013. Len Bruce was his friend and actually served with him in Afghanistan. Following this introduction, the cast members brought out a plaque, to present to James Grissom's parents. The cast came down from the stage, into the audience. The cast, crew, and audience seemed to just gather in close around the Gold Star parents. As unprepared as I really was for the emotional roller coaster the show was for me, this took those feelings to a whole other level. Imagining the grief of the survivors, and seeing the love of SFC Grissom's Brothers (and every person in the building) for him, and his survivors... was powerful beyond words. I saw love in action. We were part of love in action.
The true cost of war. Like those old newspaper clippings. You can try to hide it away. But can you? Somewhere tonight, a Gold Star family is missing someone. Somewhere tonight, a Veteran is kept awake by his (or her) mental and/or physical scars. Somewhere tonight, a Soldier who wasn't even born yet on 9-11-2001, is still fighting in Afghanistan or Iraq.
I'm grateful to Lt. Col. Mann, and his supporting cast and crew, for having the fortitude to tell this story.
Thank you for reading.
Salty Rose, 2020