In the spring of 1992, the Southern California temperature was rising. I had a friend named Aisha who's uncle played in the NFL and she was a super cool chick to walk between classes with. She was popular and she was black. As a tenth grader, I was confident enough have the friendship of this smart, popular and famously connected chick. I was also socially secure enough to shave my head to beat the heat. That was the day before the LA riots. The very next day after, she and I both had to vigorously defend our friendship from the African American community. It was a violent and scary time and my first recognized step in a walk through history.
In the beginning of 1995, I was a new Private in the US Amy and recently stationed at Ft. Riley, KS. One state away, a former soldier from a unit down the street, drove a truck full of fertilizer and destroyed the lives of an entire community by blowing up the federal building in Oklahoma City. He rented the Ryder truck from just off post in a place called Junction City. The Feds locked down our post and I learned a lot about white supremacy over the next few months. I learned a lot about how the government investigates and I learned that if you have a business card from a federal agent doing an investigation, you can dodge a speeding ticket. It was a shock to see what evil people can do and another step in the walk through history.
In April, 1999, over a plate of eggs in the chowhall of the Replacement Battalion at Fort Lewis, I watched as two kids in a sleepy town in Colorado butcher their class mates at school. It was a ham, cheese and tomato omelete and I promise, I never had them again after witnessing the fear that the media showed me that morning. It was another step in a walk through history. I learned the term Mass Shooting that day.
Last September, I wrote "9/11, Aged 18 Years" where I detailed how, on the day 19 terrorists enacted a plan to murder thousands, I was supposed to leave a country half a world away to witness the birth of my daughter. I was in Korea and the tension was thick enough to cut with a knife. The military response was swift and decisive regardless of where I was located. In the aftermath, the world became engulfed in a new normal and I placed another step in a walk through history.
Start of the Iraq War from Kuwait... another step.
Guarding a polling station for Iraq's first free election day... another step.
Looking back, the Space Shuttles Challenger and Columbia can both be steps in history for me, because I remember both like it was yesterday and they were decades apart. Finding out that Israel Keyes was a serial killer who committed suicide on the evening news wasn't the normal step, but remembering how we used to drink beer in his barracks room at Ft. Lewis and what a good kid and infantryman he was, is. Apparently, I met him at the same time he met his urges. I didn't know.
Today, it's COVID-19 and the grip it has on the world and the view of this situation from prison. This is a wild step in my walk through history. One day, this will pass and I will have this time burned into my mind, as will the rest of the world. And like 9/11, nothing will be the same again and I was able to witness this history from a crazy place. Right now. Today. Step, step, step.
I'm often reminded of the movie "Big Fish" where the son hears the stories of the father and they were unbelievable stories, way over the top. And by the end of the movie, there is a level of truth to all of it. Witnessing and walking through history feels the same way. What history have you walked through and what will you tell those who didn't witness it the way you did? The world will be engulfed again in a new normal and, as you read this, you're also a part of the story. If it's your first recognized step in a walk through history, keep walking. There's big fish style stories to tell along the way...
by Rory Andes
So much happens in life. I wish I could remember every day....
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