He's any Marine, yours or mine, back to WWII for sure, probably every war since there have been Marines. It's winter, and he's got on every layer he carries with him. He has a dark knit cap pulled down low, covering his ears. If you could see his hands, they'd be covered in ragged gloves, the tips cut out so he can handle his weapon. He has the kind of dirt on his face you know isn't just today's, but is layers of grime, months' old, that he wipes off when he shaves -- every day, by God, because he's a Marine -- but is never quite washed away in the absence of soap and hot water.
He's hunched with the cold, his eyes are tired, and the circles beneath them run right into his too-prominent cheek bones. But he's got that one-sided smile that tells you he's still in there somewhere, there's the spark that makes him a Marine, a man, and my son.
When people ask me about my son, I don't want to show them that shiny graduation picture from boot camp, with the too-big hat balancing on the top of his ears, that 1000-mile stare the photographer scares them into. I want to show them this one. This is who and what a Marine is.
He's not just my child. He's yours, too. And your Marine is mine, too. That's why we parents come here, and we brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, grandfathers and grandmothers. We come here to talk about our children, we worry together over them, we pray for them, we laugh about their antics, and we grieve together when we must.
Next time someone asks me, "How could you let him go?" I won't answer the way I have in the past. I always used to say proudly, "It can't always be someone else's child." I've realized it never is -- it is always my child -- and theirs -- and yours -- who goes to war, and sends home a photo that looks a lot like the one I've posted. These are America's children.
We should remember that.