Meeting Isaiah

August 8, 2005 at 11:17 pm 1 comment

Dad announced Saturday night that we were going to Cracker Barrel for lunch yesterday to meet a man named Isaiah. The man, he told us, is a Marine who recently returned to the U.S. after losing one of his legs in comabt in Iraq.

I wasn’t terribly excited. I didn’t know this man or his family and didn’t think the encounter would be that interesting. But I was wrong.

Since Dad said Isaiah was married and had a daughter, I was picturing someone who was maybe late 20s or early 30s. But Isaiah is only 21. My age. His wife, Nicole, is 20, and their daughter is just 5 months old.

I was surprised when they brushed through the door, the baby girl bouncing along in Isaiah’s arms–he walks with only a slight limp. Isaiah may be missing a leg, but you’d be hard-pressed to tell if it weren’t for the cold metal contraption protruding from the leg-opening of his shorts.

He told us about how he joined the Marines–how he wanted to sign up when he was 17, but his mom made him wait another year. He joined right after 9/11. When the twin towers were hit, he said, he knew he was going.

He narrated his memories of boot camp, and confirmed the intensity of the experience that I vaguely recall hearing about from miscellaneous sources. Nearly every moment of the day, he said, is regimented. He recited for us the rules of meal time–how recruits must sit with their feet at a 45 degree angle from each other; how their backs must be perfectly straight and their heads forward at all times; how they are not allowed to look at each other or anywhere but down at their food; how their left hands must rest on their knees and their right hands must rest on their forks; how they must bring their food to their mouths and not lean forward to their plates an inch; how if anyone so much as accidently places both hands on the table, the entire dining hall is immediately dismissed and the meal is over. He told us about bedtime, and how recruits must lay stiffly in bed with their feet at the same 45 degree angle until the command to “adjust!” is called; and about talking, and how no recruit is ever allowed to speak in the first person, and how a misstep earns you 30 minutes of hard exercise (“murder,” Isaiah called it). And I think to myself: It must be that they either kill you or make you steel. But Isaiah said it’s good–once you get out there in combat, your training takes over, and honed instict overrules fear.

Isaiah and Nicole married shortly after he finished boot camp, when he was 19 and she was 18. And then Isaiah left for Iraq two months later.

He told us about the accident. It happened during his second tour of duty, in January of this year, just a couple weeks before he was due to come home for the birth of his baby girl. It was an anti-tank grenade, he said, tore off his leg, then kept going and exploded into a wall behind him.

He told us about being rescued–the marines carrying him to safety dropped him twice as they scurried to cover. His mom and his wife shared with us how they got the news, and about their hysteria when they were called. They looked pretty calm sitting across the table from me yesterday afternoon, but I saw their eyes tear up several times as they looked down at their plates.

We asked Isaiah about life in Iraq, and how the people feel about us over there. The Iraqi people have the worst position of all, he said. Some try to help the coalition forces. But if they do, soldiers are likely to find their bodies in an alley a few days later.

He said he can’t watch CNN anymore. The news is too exasperating. They show only the negative, only the bad stuff. Little knots of frustration were evident in his face as he told about the heroic acts of self-sacrifice on the part of the Marines that never make it onto the news.

He explained these things with a look of regret on his face, that made me think he sure acted a lot older than 21. He’s young, for sure, but he’s older in terms of experience and reflection than most 21-year-olds I know. I couldn’t help but be impressed as I watched his little family walking out into the parking lot–Isaiah walking swiftly and smoothly past the rows of cars, his wife at his side, and his baby daughter in her basket swinging along on his arm.

The thing that struck me most? He wants to go back. He’s already lost one leg, and he wants to return. You don’t understand, he told us, unless you’ve been there and been a squad leader and felt the responsibility for the lives of the men under you. But once you’ve been there, he said, you know that’s where you belong.


Entry filed under: Uncategorized.

They’re here to serve ME–or is that a wrong-headed view? Thank you, ma’am

1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Bonnie  |  May 23, 2008 at 2:05 pm

    This is an older post so this comment might not get noticed, but I found this a very interesting read 🙂 You write well!


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profile.jpgI am working on my M.A. in Religion at Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan. Besides having a big interest in theology, history, ethics, and the deep stuff of life, I am also very fond of Mediterranean food, snow, and the color red.

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