This week the U.S. Marine Corps inducted an 18 year old boy with Tourette Syndrome (neurological symptoms of facial tics and shaky hands) and severe learning disabilities. The physical examination clearly was devoid of any physical history. This young man may expect about 13 weeks basic training, and then it’s off to wherever he's needed based upon his specialty: Infantry. Doubtless, "wherever” won’t be Honolulu. This boy is my nephew, whose father was MIA most of his life, and I have, in his words, been the father he didn’t really have.
For some time, shortly after the United States entry into World War I, what I am about to tell you would have been illegal, because it was illegal to dissuade a potential recruit from enlisting (struck down on first amendment rights): I tried everything I could to prevent him from joining up, from occupational alternatives, to “I’ll get you a car,” to making him volunteer at the VA hospital (he never showed up for that one), to good old-fashioned de facto parental guilt.
But from here out , it's out of my hands, and, naturally, I feel a bit helpless. I wish he were required to provide his neurological history, but I expect that it would be disregarded, until, of course he comes back and needs healthcare, at which point his entire medical history will miraculously appear and he will be denied any help based on pre-existing conditions, like thousands of others have had thrown at them. But why would they take a kid with a neurological disorder, a kid whose hand shakes with a pen in it? Of course the answer is: cannon fodder. Hell, they're even taking felons and drug addicts nowadays, they're so desperate for soldiers. So why not take the neurologically impaired?
As it happens, the road to hell is paved with good intentions, and I feel rather guilt-ridden here. My nephew was in a special education school until the junior year of high school, and I then plunged in every week five to twenty hours per week to help him get into a public high school and get a full diploma. His senior year, I worked with him tirelessly to see to it that he got through, and we were an uncommonly proud family when he graduated, because the odds were so against him. But the one thing I didn’t foresee was that lurking at the public high schools (lest the district lose its federal underwriting) were military recruiters, and no one can spot a vulnerable “new kid in town” faster than the boys with the brass buttons.
So, his recruiters' patent shoes and white sash must have some magic power (oh, how I wish the Scientologists or the Kabballists or any other cult had got him first). Since they’re now putting the kids out on 15-month deployments, if he is shipped out March 1, we will not see him again until July 2009, unless he comes home on a gurney or in a box.
Aside from doing a Holiday dinner last month I've been keeping my distance because I feel a bit betrayed (he had shaken my hand on a deal to not join until January 2009, under a new president, and has violated that handshake), and I didn't want him going away thinking I'm angry with him. I'm really not. I'm angry at the world tonight. And I hate that this is happening to the closest I have ever had to a son, and, for what? He keeps saying it’s about patriotism; If only that were applicable. It’s not. He’s being used. All I have left is the hope that he’s not being used up.