Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Inspiring character on a journey lost.



I held off writing this blog because I didn’t know how or what to write. A few days ago one of my facebook contacts posted a remembrance for someone in my old unit killed in action on February 16, 2005.

Remembering SGT Adam Plumondore K.I.A. 16 Feb 2005 Mosul Iraq. We lost quit a few men during that tour and as a medic I would trade my life for anyone of theirs.

I had wanted to write something that day, but I held off because I wasn’t too sure how I want to say what I wanted to say. Yesterday morning, I received a call from a Marine I had never met; but I have come to be a close friend to his journey walking around the country for veterans. His name is Eddie Gray. He embodies fear and hope in all of us and after talking to him over the phone, I realized how I would tell this story.

Eddie Grey is a Marine. Once a Marine, always a Marine.

I was a soldier. I served as a medic and did the best I could for my fellow service members. I am now a citizen, naturalized in 2007 after holding a Green Card for twelve-years. My service in Iraq convinced my loyalty to this great nation and I proudly took the oath.

Six years after a tour in Iraq, I am still haunted by the events that occurred. Haunted because I realized the preciousness of life and the amazing opportunity provided to me by the men and women who gave their lives defending this country. But I am proud today: proud to be a citizen and picking up the responsibilities of defending this nation in its time of need. I do what I can today for society, for this economic recovery. I started a social entrepreneurial project to help localize our food production to both reduce industrial agriculture and CAFO pollutions and help us diversify our food base and distribute production in preparation for the eventual petro-based food market crash and other industrial food emergencies such as disease outbreaks. I started this project also to develop local IT talents to help them compete against the rising cheap professional labors from India and China. I am a native Chinese having been born and raised there, but I am an American now owing my life to the ideals of this nation.

Starting a project is not easy. As a soldier I learned how to take orders, but since I enlisted (due to my stubbornness refusing to become a US citizen at that time) I was not able to learn how to lead. Now, I am required to lead this initiative and it is a scary thing.

I hear people criticize me all the time: this is too risky, this idea is stupid, why don’t you just focus on law school and be a lawyer, so on and so forth . . . .

They are right, this is risky and this may be stupid, but I just turns a blind-eye and keeps moving towards a forever-changing mission. I do well enough in law school to justify paying all that tuition, but I don’t foresee practicing law just for the sake of practicing law. If I should practice to help others, then so be it.

There are times I feel like giving up. There are times when doubt strikes so hard that echoes even in my dreams and nightmares.

When Eddie Gray called, after a year of silence, I was glad to hear that he is still on his journey walking around America for veterans. He had started the journey a few years ago while I worked at The American Legion. He contacted the Legion for some support and his file landed on my desk. I tried as much as I could, but in the end all I could do was write a letter of acknowledgment of his efforts. He took my letter and started his journey. He walked from Montana west to Washington. I kept track of him for a while until he reached Oregon. I resigned from the Legion at that time to pursuit my own dreams of doing some good for my community. He fell silent, probably because he had gotten drunk at one of the gracious Legionnaire’s house and caused some trouble. To The American Legion, he is a liability risk. To me, he is a friend.

When he called yesterday morning, I asked how he is doing. He rambled quite a bit and told me the encounters he had had on Thanksgiving Day last year. He had been sleeping against the wall underneath a highway bridge against his ruck-sac fully decorated with Marine Corp items. He was particularly proud of his Marine Corp license plate attached to the ruck-sac and he was even more excited to tell me that people had stopped to see him and offer him turkey and food. I could hear it in his voice that it was a victory for him when a strange woman had offered him a full bag of turkey meat and her husband offered him a half-empty bottle of wine.

“I ate the turkey and drank the wine, and I fell asleep. Not because of the wine. It was the tryptophan.”

I fear for his life. I fear that he has slipped from a heroic man started on a journey to help other veterans to simply a homeless man. I fear for his future, how will he survive and when will his journey end?

I had asked him on the phone when does he expect him journey will end. He laughed and told me he would be walking for the years to come.

I fear for his life, one that I cannot save just like the men of my unit who lost their lives in Iraq. But most of all, I fear for my life. I have taken on a very big risk trying to help my community, but am I lost as Eddie only waiting for the next gracious person to pity my choice?

I told Lauren of my conversation with Eddie. Lauren said: “all those who wonder are not lost.”

The words Eddie gave me just before we ended our conversation: “Aren’t you a vet? I’m doing this for you and for all of the veterans. I am a poet and a writer, I can’t do much else. I am walking and writing about all of the veterans in this country and only God knows when I will stop.”

Eddie Gray, 2009
I fear for Eddie, but I am proud to be his friend. If he should continue, there is no reason for me to quit. I do what I do for Eddie, for everyone. Only God knows when I will stop.

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