There is something about being stuck in a war zone that causes a man to fabricate in his mind a fantastic image of the return home. While the scene may have banners and ticker tape, marching bands, his family, cheering crowds and a triumphal parade, there is one element present that he most dearly misses: his sweetheart. However young or old, there is no other face he so dearly wishes to spot in the crowd, no other figure he wants to wrap in his arms, and no other lips he wishes to kiss. Above all others, it was she he missed.
Absence does, indeed, make the heart grow fonder. During a long tour, a fighter’s helmet, flak vest and pockets are frequently crammed with photographs, letters, or odd mementos of his lover. In the greatest moments of peril, it is her he longs to see – and tell one final time that he loves her. In the loneliest hours of solitude, it is her company he misses, and he pulls out a photo or a note and simply misses her all the more. When the time comes to go home, she occupies his every thought and even dream.
No single person so occupies his mind and heart. And in a sea of faces, it is only her that he seeks, and having fixated upon her, he will not rest until they have been united. This woman, though thousands of miles away, saw him off to war, saw him through it, and somehow saw him home. It is love; and virtually indescribable.No single photograph so beautifully captures the exuberance of returning home safely, victoriously, and to a beautiful woman than Alfred Eisenstaedt’s world-famous capture of a sailor kissing a woman in Times Square on VJ day, 1945. It is unknown if the two even knew each other. It is also totally irrelevant. No better exhibition of emotion and glee has ever been committed to film.
In the absence of a true sweetheart, a soldier will “create” one. He will date, romance and make out with a girl in a relationship which exists solely in his mind and heart. He will even dream of her waiting when he returns. Perhaps she is a friend, or a pretty face he picked out of a crowd years ago. Maybe a model from a magazine. He may hardly know her, but he loves her. And he fights primarily for her. Many a girl stateside remains totally unaware that she was involved in a long-distance relationship with a man she never dated. Perhaps it is better this way. He retains the unreal, but gorgeous lady in his heart, and she is freed from having to put up with him. It is not ideology and patriotism that sees men through wars; it is their girls back home – whether they know it, or even exist at all.
Millions of men have returned with tattered photos and worn out letters. Stiff from sweat, abraded by dirt and sand, they were more valuable to him than his rifle, and may have done more to protect him. This woman gives him something to come home to, something to kiss, and while far way, somebody to sigh over and miss. She is a saint in his eyes.
Only a modest number of troops return home to sweethearts. Most – young, socially awkward and single, come back to families or even nobody at all. It is, to say the least, a total disappointment. The truth sets in, and the months of preparing for a hero’s return to a lass back home is recognized as a farce and a self-created, but a highly successful crutch. There is no girl at all.
Tomorrow, countless numbers girls will miss their boys overseas, stuck in Iraq, Afghanistan, Djibuti, Kenya, Germany, Italy, or any one of a number of bases throughout the world. And those boys will miss their girls, no doubt, and dig out a picture to gently cradle with a faraway stare. The thousands more that have no such girl, and there are many, will feel the deep sting of being alone. Deployments are even harder when you have no lover to miss. They are dreary affairs indeed.
Right now, somewhere around 100,000 love relationships are being taxed by distance, poor communication and agonizing worry. Some will not survive the ordeal, but many more will be deepened. Encourage them if you can. Remind them of the kiss that awaits their lover’s return. And be there if you can to witness it. It is love, and it is beautiful.
Copyright © 2009, Ben Shaw
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