Friday, August 24, 2007

Aftershocks that rock my memories

One upon a time, when I was a young military wife and  mother, we were stationed in at a post considered a bit of a plum Job. Honestly, on what st. sgts make the only way we were going to be  able to travel to Hawai'i was courtesy of the United State Air Force.

Orders came down and packers arrive and inspectors declared our former quarters had been cleaned to military spec. We were off bound for Schofield Barracks and 12-18 months on The  Rock.

It is not hyperbole to say that those few months in Hawai'i changed my life.

It was a tight community, the four family townhouses that made up enlisted housing had much deeper roots and traditions than you might expect of neighborhoods where no one is likely to still be there in a year or two. There were caravans of cars to take the children to the shore. Everyone knew everyone, and we all watched the wandering pack of kids who roamed from yard to yard.  

Four of the dead were stationed at Fort Lewis, to the north of here in Washington. The other ten were all assigned to Schofield Barracks. The streets where the curtains are now drawn are the same ones where my two oldest children raced their Hot Wheels.

And now the official cars, with their impecably dressed notification officers, are pulling up to doors, reading off the name plates. The chaplains are composing themselves for a moment in the tropical sweetness of the trade winds. There are things they must say, traditions that must be honored, standards which must be met.

When the doors open in answer to that knock- there may be shock or pleading or anger. But there will likely not be very much surprise. The families who live onpost in places like Schofield or Lewis all know this could happen at any time. Next week it could be your door that gets the knock, and the speech that begins with 'It is my sad duty to inform you-'.

There are two Scofield Barracks in my mind now. One is the place of impromtu BBQs and the sound of slack key guitar drifting on that impossible scented wind. The other is one where women, like I once did,  are holding down the home fort, hear words they have heard before in their darkest most frightened dreams. Where neighbors and friends bring casseroles and boxes of tissues, and someone to gather up the children and take them to another house to play.

And in the silence, with the notification officer possibly still sitting there, a cup of coffee awkward in his hands, the women weep. Or hold themselves together to make phone calls to family back on the mainland. They cling to the hands of neighbors they will soon lose, for widows and orphans don't live on military bases.

Outside the post there are tourists admiring the waves rolling in. They will eat and shop and sit in the sun. And here and there as they go about their days in paradise they'll hear snippets  of news. The names will be released, flags will fly at half mast.

There will be phone calls made, arrangements for travel and final resting place of the body. And while that is going on, the families are learning how long they can stay in their quarters before they have to decide where to go now. The military will see to it they have help and support, such as it is.

And in not so very long, those empty quarters reassigned to new soldiers and their families. And the impossibly scented wind will sigh between the buildings and the children will go back to playing,  missing their old friends and getting to know the new kids.

And they'll watch for those cars, long official cars, with solemn men in impeccable uniforms, moving slowly down the street while the driver searches for the set of quarters with the right name on the door. As it's happened at least 3227 times already.

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