I sit in my room and sweep it with my eyes. The selector in iTunes suddenly comes to “Fanfare For The Common Man”, a stirring composition of horns and drums that moves me. My eyes fall upon my boots sitting on the floor. A pair of black, size 11 Jump Boots. The laces only laced up halfway, the zippers unzipped, and in the toe caps I can see my face. I have walked many miles in these boots. I have broken them in. They have given me blisters and rubbed my feet raw. I have marched and worked in them from before the sun rises to after the sun sets. I worn them and they have never failed me. And even after all this time, they still retain that brand new leather smell.
And then the thought hit me. Many men before me have worn boots like mine. Some have worn boots like these to their final resting place. Others have donned these boots and become heroes. Many have lost their lives in similar boots. I reflected on that for a moment. And for those that did make that ultimate sacrifice in order to protect our freedom, that was sometimes all they had left to send home to their loved ones, their boots.
Many who were scarred in battle can never wear boots again. They can never walk again because they have given their legs or feet or entire bod half to the fight. Some have stepped on land mines and are now confined to a wheelchair. Once, they were great warriors, men who laughed at death, because they had to, because that was the only thing that kept them sane. And a great many others have worn these boots and returned without a scratch and a few stories to tell. Boots are an integral part of warfare. A soldier has nothing if he can’t use his feet. In battles long past one of a soldier’s most prized posessions were his boots.
But to what end do these soldiers risk their lives and sometimes sacrifice them? In a country where it seems that many do not appreciate what they do and do not care. Where it seems that many care only enough to criticize and spew vile, hateful things from their mouths. A country where valiant warriors return home from a the hell that is war, only to be spat upon by some ignoramus. But could it be true, that a country’s citizens could be so callous towards those who act selflessly in order to protect what they believe in? They could persecute men and women who are not even U.S. citizens who fight for them because they love America and all it stands for? No, not all. Most appreciate what these brave few who do so much so that the many can prosper. It is only a handful of rotten apples who wish to tarnish the names of our servicemen and women. But most of America feels indebted to those who serve and hope and pray that they make it home safe.
And while thinking about that, I came to the realization that in the near future I would be donning those boots. That I would join the ranks of the service. That I would put on a uniform that represented more than two hundred years of tradition. To pledge my faithfulness to my country, like so many before me. And, if asked, be ready to lay down my life to ensure that my children and my children’s children and every generation after that enjoyed the same rights and freedoms that I do. And in the not-so-distant future I will be proud to wear those boots.
But for now, I only wear a pair of black, size 11, jump boots that I bought at a surplus store. And in closing I would like to share an old Army tradition. When a soldier is killed in combat, his unit holds a memorial service for him. Instead of his body they have his helmet resting upon his rifle that is posted in the ground. And at the base of his rifle are his boots. It comes full circle.