It was a moment in time that no one had expected. Through a twist of fate I found myself standing in the midst of warriors; warriors dressed in civilian clothes, waiting for a ride somewhere. They sat on the floor, propping themselves up against walls, wasting no energy, efficient even in their resting.
They had the look, those warriors. There is no mistaking that look once you’ve seen them; handsome, intelligent, lean and fit. They looked like the type of men that growing boys always want to be. They were in their prime.
As I walked among them, they noticed me, undoubtedly. They sized me up, but mostly kept silent. A few talked softly to their near-by friends about whatever interested them, to pass the time. They were clearly not a rugby or football team, all full of themselves, headed off for a game. They were quietly confident, having done this so many times before.
One of them had body art and dark features. His look said Navy, and since he sat alone I paused in front of him. If he was indeed a Navy man, I wanted to wish him well.
“You fellas shoving off?”
It was a harmless question, since the answer was obvious. Of course they were. But that warrior lowered his head, did not speak. It looked like he regretted being singled out, as if he would break some code of silence if he spoke to someone who was not one of them. As they say, his silence spoke volumes. I then knew him for exactly who and what he was, and both admired and respected him and his silence.
Before the moment became too awkward, one of his buddies, twenty or so feet away, spoke, drawing my gaze, flashing an easy smile, removing attention from a pinned down comrade. That’s instinctive for them; protecting their own.
“Yes, we are,” is all he said, and was all he needed to say.
I gave him a thumbs up. “Good luck fellas,” I said; and I meant it with all my heart. I was thankful that one of them had given me a chance to wish them all well.
If only my good wishes had been more effective. When I saw the photos in 2011 of those lost in Afghanistan, which included that dark-haired SEAL with the decorated arms, I shuddered. I don’t know if those lost in the helicopter with him were some of his travelling buddies that day that I walked among them, but they were all fine, fine men. The loss of any of them is a loss to the world I believe.
I salute them all.