My friend Pete S. came back from Kuwait late in 1991, I think, and he was never quite the same. A high school teacher who went to Kuwait with his Marine Reserve unit and came back a battle-hardened Marine. He had a hard time putting the high school teacher part back into the equation. It was hard to be a husband and father again, too. He thought it had something to do with adrenalin addiction - he was forever craving the adrenalin high that he found in the desert and in Ras al-Khafji with Iraqi bullets whizzing past his ear. The smell of burning petroleum, the darkened desert sky and the wild Humvee rides down some deserted highway with burnt-to-a-crisp Arab bodies littering the landscape. You remember the photos. You remember the boys who went and fought. You remember the men who returned. A fast war in a fast time for a generation that grew up fast and yet never grew up. CNN covered it all. You were there.
Pete wanted to teach history and he wound up making history - yet it was history that has been largely forgotten and eclipsed by "what came next." Kind of like the veterans of the "Great War" - World War One - being ever in the shadow of "the Greatest Generation." When I would ask my dad about my grandfather and his service in the US Army artillery back in 1918, there was never much to tell...Dad fought in "the Big One" and naturally that was where it was at - it was what he knew, and as far as his generation cared, it was the war that mattered. Lots of parallels between those two sets of wars, in some ways.
Pete has disappeared. I have no idea what happened to him. He had a hard time getting his life together, and he drank a lot after the war. He moved to Chicago with his marriage on the rocks, and I never heard from him again. I have Googled him many a time, I have tried in vain to find him. I guess in some ways that missing yet not forgotten friend is the converse of who he and his brothers in arms are and of the legacy they have left. Still in the history books but largely forgotten. Those men who raced across the desert listening to Jane's Addiction and Guns N' Roses and raced into history and into a middle age that hit them with a nasty recession and a different world - a world framed by 9/11 and the hyper-connected society. I pray that Pete broke free from the addiction and has kept whatever job he hopefully found. I pray that his dreams gradually contained less and less images of sand and smoke and boys who quickly became men.