I have had the pleasure of playing a few evil video game characters who kill with abandon. And a few hardened soldiers whose balls are bigger than the two hemispheres of their brain. They are definitely the most fun characters to play. And the acting involved is merely imagination and emotional improvisation. I can mix and match feelings and experiences until I stumble upon the right brew for a performance. But it is just a performance. Just as most people who play those games know they’re indulging in fantasy. They know that the most they risk losing is their high score.
I say “most” more out of hope than knowledge. When I heard that the military had a 12 million dollar video game recruitment center in a mall in Philadelphia called “The U.S. Army Experience Center,” I began to worry.
Jesse Hamilton, a former Army staff sergeant who served in Iraq in 2005 and 2006, said the use of video games glamorized war and misled potential recruits, calling it “very deceiving and very far from realistic.”
“You can’t simulate the loss when you see people getting killed,” said Hamilton, who left the Army after his Iraq tour and is now a member of Iraq Veterans Against the War.
“It’s not very likely you are going to get into a firefight,” he said. “The only way to simulate the heat is holding a blow dryer to your face.” [Reuters]
There are many things in life we can’t truly understand without experiencing them first hand; seeing Earth from space, rummaging through your psyche with LSD, pushing a human being out of your body and into their first breath of life. And certainly, forcefully taking someone’s last breath away in the name of your country.
I am very lucky in that I have not lost a family member in war. My grandfather was needed stateside because of his work with American Bell during World War II and my great Uncle Bert made it safely home after his tour of the South Pacific with a gunshot wound and malaria. My father had a wife and two kids to support at the beginning of Vietnam. I am quite thankful for these things.
I am also grateful for the sacrifices that so many made for our country. I would like to indict the human race for its inability to evolve past the need for these sacrifices, as well as the heinous political motivations behind many of the wars, but that’s for another blog — to be written by another blogger. And though it’s Memorial Day weekend, I don’t think a backyard BBQ would please the hovering spirit of someone who died in the Spanish-American war. Like funerals, Memorial Day is really more for the living. So, with that in mind, I’d like to talk about a soldier who is still very much alive — my stepfather.
Travis Odell Malicoat was born in 1933 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. His parents were “Okies” – migrant workers who traveled from farm to farm, usually picking fruit, ultimately settling in California. When Travis was seventeen, he lied about his age and enlisted in the army. He was trained by the 101st Airborne division, becoming an E4 Specialist (what we now call Special Forces), then sent to Korea as a squad leader attached to the 187th. His primary duty while there was long range recon patrols. Essentially, he was sent out to “eliminate” any potential “problems” before his platoon moved through. He received the Purple Heart for getting stabbed by a North Korean’s bayonette … Yeah, it was a close-quarters battle.
One of the few times we talked about his experiences, he had dug out his medals from the closet to show me. It was clear that the medals were almost an insult to the events they represented. He recounted the futility of taking a particular hill, only to lose it the next day, then getting orders to retake it. Many men died in what was less a strategic battle than a desire by the brass to add land to their daily totals.
Travis participated in both the Battle of Inchon and the bloody second Battle of Seoul. Among the medals he received was the Distinguished Service Cross. Once back home, he became a drill sergeant at Fort Benning and Camp Roberts. He got tired of that after six months and left the service.
In the years that followed, he lived a pretty remarkable life. He went to work for Lockheed as an engineer. One of the first projects he worked on was the U2 plane. He was involved with all of the Apollo space missions and the first shuttle mission. By the time he retired, he couldn’t say what he worked on as his security clearance was so high… From an “Okie” migrant worker to Silicon Valley executive working on top secret projects. A pretty remarkable journey.
I didn’t know Travis that well when I was growing up (as we met when puberty had hit me – so I was insane for the four years we all lived together). It wasn’t until that conversation about his time in Korea that I got a glimpse of the 17 year old kid inside who saw and did things that still affect him to this day.
When we talk of our soldiers sacrificing their lives for our country, we’re not just talking about those who died in our wars. We’re also talking about the ones still living, walking around with their experience of the war reverberating in the corner of their mind. It seems they’ve sacrificed a part of their lives as well. These are all debts a nation can never come close to repaying.
Because pictures can’t relay a personality that well, I want to include a trailer to a wonderful film starring Richard Farnsworth. If Travis ever had a doppleganger, it’s him. And the film perfectly captures Travis’ sensibilities.
If you’d like to do something more active this Memorial Day than just eating hot dogs, beating back acid-reflux, and watching somber rituals on TV, have a look at Fisher House. This non-profit takes care of military families by augmenting the work of the VA. A great way to honor our fallen is by taking care of our wounded.