I’m grateful to my friend, Flimsy Sanity, for introducing me to Sergeant Gray. Sergeant Gray was the subject of a program on American RadioWorks recently, entitled, “What Killed Sergeant Gray.”
Sergeant Gray was a young man who grew up wanting only to be in the military. He eventually joined up and was sent to Iraq in 2003. After a tour of duty that lasted a year, he returned home to America, physically uninjured. After a short time at home, he was sent to Alaska for retraining. While there, he took his own life.
The program asks, “What killed Sergeant Gray.” It fails, in my opinion, to reach any firm conclusions.
So, I’ll tell you what killed Sergeant Gray, or, if not this Sergeant Gray, then another, more anonymous Sergeant Gray, now lying dead in Arlington, or some other convenient place of disposal.
America killed Sergeant Gray. From a small child he wanted to be a soldier. Why? Because he was fed on heroism and patriotism, and the glory of being in the military. He grew up hearing about “heroes”. It became his life. He didn’t just want to enlist for a few years – he was in for the duration. Then he went to war. He quickly discovered that all his life he’d been lied to. There was no heroism; there was no glory, and the patriotism was false, because his war held no relevance to ‘fighting for his country’. His war didn’t consist of the glorious battles he’d dreamed of as a child. Instead he was forced to debase and torture other human beings, kill civilians, behave like an ugly barbarian.
How often does one hear the stories of men home from war, sitting forever on the front porch, eyes glazed, distant: “He never talks of the war – he just sits for hours staring across the street.”
War only serves one purpose: to teach men – real men – of the great lie they’ve been fed. Others never learn, or, if they do are too afraid to admit that what they were told to believe all their lives was a great untruth.
Sergeant Gray grew up inside a bubble of glory and patriotism, inflated by Hollywood fiction, video gore, and the insincere ramblings of political misfits seeking cannon fodder. He was taught war games in kindergarten; saluted the flag in first grade; watched Black Hawk Down fifteen times during high school.
Then he went to war.
Sergeant Gray could have ended up on his front porch, glazed, distant; lost to the awful conundrums wrecking his life, tormenting his mind, destroying his soul. It’s hard for any man to come to terms with the truth – that everything he’d ever believed, sworn to uphold, was prepared to sacrifice his life for, was worth less than a barrel of rotten apples.
Sergeant Gray didn’t spend his life sat endlessly on the front porch staring across the street. He died a lonely, suicidal death with a plastic bag over his head. Sergeant Gray had learned the ultimate lesson war has to offer. In many ways it’s the only lesson of war worth learning. Sadly, for many like Sergeant Gray, they learn it too late.
War is not glory; it’s not heroism, it’s not even patriotic. There are no heroes in war, we just let our media make them up afterward. War is a lesson in barbarity; it’s a test of the depths of depravity to which human beings can sink. It makes a mockery of patriotism, flags waving, and all the contrived rigmarole that passes for nationalistic pride.
The psych-docs will say Sergeant Gray suffered from PTSD, or mental breakdown, or something else with a long, fancy-sounding, name. It’s more professional than admitting he died of a broken heart. Broken because the country he loved lied to him his whole life, then sent him to war in Iraq and brutally exposed him to the truth.
It didn’t have to be Sergeant Gray, it could have been any young man.
It didn’t have to be Iraq; it could have been any war.
After all, for once let’s face the truth, they are all the same.
 “Flimsy Sanity”
 “What Killed Sergeant Gray” American RadioWorks, undated
In memory of the millions like Sergeant Gray whose lives have been wasted in politicians’ wars, take a few minutes to listen while Eric Bogle sings of “Willie McBride”.
Filed under: The hard way