Sunday, March 23, 2008

Morning Coffee in Ocean Beach, CA

I'm standing in a short line at the coffee kiosk I frequent every morning. It's just a couple of blocks from my place in this small, ultra-laid-back beach town in San Diego.

The guy is front of me is wearing a black t-shirt with an enormous emblem that covers most of the back of the shirt. It's circular, mostly gold in color, and around its circumference are the words, " Marine Reconnaissance Force." Within the circle, among other images, are a horizontal figure in full scuba diver attire and a vertical depiction of a soldier dangling from a parachute.

I tap the guy, he's maybe 23-yrs-old, on the shoulder and tell him that the emblem on his back is awesome, to say the least. He thanks me and I ask him if that's what unit he's in and what the unit does.

The unit has a medical mission, tending to the wounded out in the battlefield. "When you see the movies where a soldier is lying there screaming 'medic, medic,' we're the ones who respond." The best reply I can muster is "Man! It's amazing you're alive, guy...., did you ever get hurt doing this."

"I got shot," he says matter-of-factly, as he points to a streak 2 inches above his right temple. He tells me a bullet ricoshayed off his Kevlar vest, fragmented his helmet and pieces of both the bullet and helmet wounded his skull. He was rendered unconscious. Surgery followed, then discharge from the military with a lifetime disability.

Any lasting effects, I ask. He thinks for a moment or two. "My girlfriend tells me I don't behave the same way I used to, just don't act like myself anymore. There's no real pain or anything, just the scar...but I don't feel like me anymore."

I am absolutely dumbfounded and tongue-tied. I manage to thank him for his service and wish him the best of luck.

We get our coffee and as we're leaving he says to me, "But it's sure nice to be home here at the beach."

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