In the first chapter of my new book, Available Hope, I write about winning an essay contest my sophomore year at Winder-Barrow High School. It was, to be specific, the annual patriotic essay contest sponsored by The Peoples Bank in Winder, Georgia, my hometown. That essay led to my being published for the first time, in the Memorial Day edition of The Winder News, and it was, as I write in my book, the first time I have conscious memory of using writing as a way to work through a significant feeling or experience.
You see, that essay contest, I entered it just after February of that year–1991, just as what my generation of folks calls Operation Desert Storm was coming to an end. I was young. Idealistic. Innocent. So very innocent. And I was scared. And so when an opportunity to write something about patriotism presented itself, I did so, albeit in a rather unconventional way. I wrote a series of fictional journal entries, creating an older brother I did not have who was serving in the Army. I have no idea what possessed me to take this route.
This last week, while sorting through some old writing, I stumbled upon an aging copy of that Memorial Day edition of The Winder News. I was startled to discover that it had been published on my birthday that year–May 27. I had not remembered that. It’s been 25 years, almost to the day. And so, this year, for Memorial Day, I’ve included the essay in its entirety here, on this blog, just as I wrote it all those years ago, blinded and inspired both by the passion of adolescence.
The girl who wrote it 25 years ago–she knows a lot more about the world now. And yet most days she feels that she knows nothing at all. But she still craves peace. Trusts that such peace is possible. Asks lots of questions. And…she hopes. In many ways, such as these, she hasn’t changed much at all.
May we, this Memorial Day, give profound and unceasing and humble thanks for the men and women who have given their lives in service to our country, and, as testament to our gratitude for them, may we continue to work for a day when such sacrifice is no longer necessary.
(The following essay was first published in The Winder News, May, 1991, used here as the author has copied it directly, with no adaptations or edits, from the newspaper.)
Dec. 2, 1990
Jerry left last night to join the rest of the U.S. military forces in the Middle East.
It was hard to see him go, but I couldn’t help feeling a small swell of pride at the sight of my brother, in full uniform, boarding his plane, ready to fight against all odds to liberate Kuwait and destroy the power of Saddam Hussein.
Jerry is brave and loves his country with a fierce loyalty. Even though I am worried, I know we will be successful in this endeavor. Hussein can’t last long under the economic sanctions and he will soon crumble.
Jan. 4, 1991
The situation in the Persian Gulf grows more tense daily, and I am beginning to fear the threat of war. Surely it won’t be necessary, the sanctions will work and our troops will be hone in all their glory. I–we all–must believe that!
President Bush has given Saddam until the 15th to pull out of Kuwait or military force will be used. I didn’t think it would come to such an ultimatum, and I am not sure I think it should have.
I pray every day for Jerry’s safe return and a peaceful end to this crisis.
Jan. 14, 1991
“D-Day” is tomorrow. Saddam shows no signs of retreating. Daddy is constantly staring at the TV, watching for something–anything–to put our hearts and minds at rest.
Jan. 16, 1991
My worst fears were realized as, around 7:30, the news was announced. War has been declared. Images of every war movie I have ever seen flashed through my confused brain.
Pictures of torn, mutilated bodies of dead soldiers, children crying out amid the destruction, charred and desolate countryside–they are all a part of nightmarish reality of war.
Jan. 23, 1991
The ground war started today. Jerry is on the front line. I am starting to doubt my certainty over victory. Is the United States as strong as we need to be to defeat Saddam?
I have faith in our troops, but the Iraqi army has many tricks. Is this war really necessary? The people of Kuwait deserve their freedom, but is this the way?
When I think of all the suffering that has been caused and will be caused, maybe it is irrational, but my brother could die for something that could possibly be solved another way!
Mother is so calm and quiet, just as if she knows the very real chance of Jerry never coming home and is preparing herself.
Jan. 28, 1991
A cease-fire was declared today! If all goes well, Jerry will be home soon. I look for news of him every day. We were the winners, but did we pay to high a price?
Jan. 30, 1991
Only 78 killed-in-action were reported for the U.S. military. One of those 78 was Capt. Gerald M. Williams, my brother. We received the news yesterday. Mom and Dad are okay, but very questioning as to what he died for.
I have a hard time admitting I will never see him. His face will never again peek around the door of my room to tease or to just say hello. It’s hard, but I know that one day the pain will lessen and maybe then I will understand.
I have just have so many questions! Was it necessary for the United States to be involved? I’m not sure. Couldn’t we have found another way?
We have so many problems in our own country, do we need to solve those of someone else?
Drugs, AIDS, murder and teenage pregnancy are at an all-time high. Why couldn’t the billions of dollars poured in Operation Desert Storm be used for better quality education programs about these problems?
The Kuwaitis have every right to the freedom Saddam ruthlessly stripped from them, but was war the way? True, they have their freedom back, but will they keep it?
I also wonder if the Kuwaiti peoples’ freedom is the only reason for this war. Was oil also a major factor for the battles?
My romantic, glitzy ideas of war have been dashed, just as every other girl who has seen the death destruction through the ages.
Maybe the war was necessary to show the world that dictators like Saddam will not be tolerated, but should violence be fought with violence? How can world peace and freedom for all be found through fighting?
One day, maybe my grandchildren will take this diary off a dusty attic shelf to research the Persian Gulf War. When they do, hopefully, my unanswered questions will help them find a way to obtain permanent, true peace, through peace.
(by Julie E. Richardson, spring 1991)