Russ Vaughn, paratrooper-poet offers this essay, reprinted with his permission.
That’s The Way They Were Raised
While surfing through websites for information on my old unit, the 101st Airborne Division, I ran across a quote by a reporter, who was embedded with the 101st in Iraq during the invasion. In his tribute to the young troopers he served beside, he marveled at how they could fight Iraqi forces so ferociously through the night, then spend their days handing out food and medicine to Iraqi civilians. The reporter observed that Stephen Ambrose, historian and author of “Band of Brothers,” another tribute to the Screaming Eagles, but those of an earlier war, had this to say about American troops,
“When soldiers from any other army, even our allies, entered a town, the people hid in the cellars. When Americans came in, even into German towns, it meant smiles, chocolate bars and C-rations.”
The reporter followed that quote with two sentences of his own which I find truly moving and profoundly insightful,
“Ours has always been an army like no other, because our soldiers reflect a society unlike any other. They are pitiless when confronted by armed enemy fighters and yet full of compassion for civilians and even defeated enemies.”
Those words should be chiseled into granite on a prominently displayed memorial somewhere, because they speak a great truth, not just about our fighting men and women, but also of the nation and society that molded them.
As a former combat infantryman, I will wager that for every single occurrence of violence and mayhem reported from Iraq, there are hundreds of acts of kindness and generosity by American forces, which go unreported. And that’s fine because that’s as it should be. Their compassion shouldn’t be remarkable. They do it, quite simply, because that’s the way they were raised, and they don’t change just because they put on battledress uniforms and become proficient with deadly weapons.
I am so proud of those young Screaming Eagles serving in Iraq, and proud to be a part of that fine unit’s legacy. I’m proud, as well, of all the other young servicemen and women who are contributing to the effort to create peace and build a democracy in Iraq. But, Folks, I am most proud of being just one of you, a nation and a way of life, that creates such valiant yet kindhearted warriors. We should all be proud of what we’ve produced.
2d Bn, 327 Parachute Infantry Regiment
101st Airborne Division