One Soldier’s Story: A Memoir

Excerpt from ReadersRead.com
by Bob Dole
HarperCollins
onesoldiersstoryChapter One

What A Life

He looked so young, just a boy, really, not much more than twenty-one years of age. It wasn’t fair that he’d already experienced so much pain and misery in his short lifetime. It wasn’t right that his lofty hopes and dreams for the future had been snuffed out by one blast from an enemy explosive device.

But there he was, in the intensive care unit at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center, in Washington, D.C., fighting for his life.

My wife, Elizabeth, and I often visit wounded soldiers at Walter Reed, but this occasion was different. It was Christmas day 2004, and I was about to be discharged from the hospital myself. I had recently undergone surgery in New York, and had been transferred to the medical center in Washington to recuperate.

We were in the dining room shortly before two o’clock, visiting with several young soldiers who had been wounded in the Iraq war, when a mother and daughter spied us. They approached us and introduced themselves as distant relatives of my family. The mother then told us about her son, Craig Nelson, the young man in whose room I now stood. My friend Dr. Charles “Chuck” Peck had informed me of Craig’s presence in the hospital, and I had hoped to see him before I left, so the encounter seemed almost providential.

Craig had been badly wounded while on patrol in Iraq a week or so before Christmas. He suffered severe damage to his C-1 vertebra and was paralyzed from his neck down. Now lying in an intensive care unit at Walter Reed, he couldn’t move a muscle. He was hooked up to all sorts of medical machines, with various tubes running to his body, an electrocardiogram monitoring his heart, a respirator helping him to breathe, and a tracheotomy in his throat.

Nevertheless, the young man’s eyes brightened as I stepped up to his bedside. His mother introduced us: “Craig, this is Bob Dole.” Craig’s sister joined us around the bed. Craig couldn’t speak, but he could hear me and seemed to respond with his eyes.

Looking at Craig, I felt a wave of emotion sweep over me, nearly overwhelming me. It was like seeing a mirror image of myself sixty years earlier. He was tall and muscular, about six feet, one and a half inches, and about 185 pounds, almost identical to my World War II height and weight. For a moment I was back there, in a similar hospital bed, encased in plaster, unable to move, paralyzed from the neck down.

I just stood there at Craig’s bedside. I could feel my heart thumping loudly in my chest, my emotions rushing to the surface. I knew the tough road Craig had before him — and his condition was far worse than mine had been.

I reached out my hand — my left hand — touched the soldier’s arm, and said, “Good luck, Craig. You’re in a great hospital. They’ll take good care of you.” We stayed only about five minutes.

I looked the young man in the eyes one more time, then turned to his mother, put my arm around her shoulder, and said, “We’ll pray for Craig’s recovery. Please let me know if I can help.”

Unfortunately, a few days later Craig Nelson, another American hero, passed away. I grieved for that family and became more determined that this book would do something to help others understand their pain — and the trauma that so many others have endured because of war.

I’ve seen these kids in the hospitals and out, people who face seemingly impossible challenges, and I’ve seen myself in them. Whatever reassurance, hope, and inspiration I can offer them comes out of my own life experiences.

It’s said often that my generation is the greatest generation. That’s not a title we claimed for ourselves. Truth be told, we were ordinary Americans fated to confront extraordinary tests. Every generation of young men and women who dare to face the realities of war — fighting for freedom, defending our country, with a willingness to lay their lives on the line — is the greatest generation.

In the end, what gets people through a physical or emotional crisis is not new technology or medication. Those things can help, of course. But it’s faith that gives you the strength to endure — faith that won’t allow you to give up; faith that manifests itself in a ferocious determination to take the next step — the one that everyone else says is impossible.

Adversity can be a harsh teacher. But its lessons often define our lives. As much as we may wish that we could go back and relive them, do things differently, make better, wiser decisions, we can’t change history. War is like that. You can rewrite it, attempt to infuse it with your own personal opinions, twist or spin it to make it more palatable, but eventually the truth will come out. Those pivotal moments remain indelibly impressed in your heart and mind. For me, the defining period in my life was not running for the highest office in the land. It started years earlier, in a foreign country, where hardly anyone knew my name.

Dear Mom and Dad,

    What a life! I can hardly believe that I’m living in such a wonderful place. My rest is about over, but I’ve really enjoyed myself so far. I’m going on a tour this afternoon, also one tomorrow morning. I should see about everything when I’m finished.

    The radio is playing. It reminds me of the times that I’ve been home playing Norma Jean’s records. So far I haven’t heard any records by Frank Sinatra. I guess he isn’t too popular over here.

    The war news really sounds good. I guess Russia plans on helping us with Japan. Keep your eyes on the news for big things to happen.

    Had a fine breakfast this morning, scrambled eggs, bacon, tomato juice, toast and coffee. I sure miss my quart of milk per day. Tell Aunt Mildred to be sure to save some for Kenny and me when we get home.

    I ran into a Lt. in Eugene’s camp only yesterday but still haven’t seen Eugene.

    So bye for now

    Love
    Bob

————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————

RIWAYAT HIDUP : KISAH SEORANG PRAJURIT

Bagian Satu

Menakjubkan

Dia tampak sangat muda, sungguh hanya seorang pemuda yang usianya tidak lebih dari 21 tahun. Tidak adil rasanya dia telah mengalami begitu banyak rasa sakit dan kesengsaraan dalam hidupnya yang singkat. Tidaklah benar bahwa harapan tinggi dan mimpi-mimpi masa depannya telah hancur oleh sebuah ledakan alat peledak musuh.

Disanalah dia berjuang, di unit perawatan intensif Pusat Medis Walter Reed Army di Washington D.C. Pemuda itu berjuang demi hidupnya.

Istriku Elizabeth dan aku sering mengunjungi para prajurit yang terluka di Walter Reed, akan tetapi kali ini berbeda. Saat itu Natal tahun 2004, aku dipindahkan dari rumah sakit tempatku baru saja menjalani pembedahan di New York ke Pusat Medis di Washington guna pemulihan.

Sebelum pukul dua siang kami ke ruang makan sebentar mengunjungi beberapa prajurit muda yang terluka dalam perang Irak. Ketika itu seorang ibu dan anak memata-matai kami. Mereka mendekat dan memperkenalkan diri sebagai kerabat dekat keluargaku. Ibunya lalu menceritakan tentang anak lelakinya Craig Nelson, pemuda di ruang tempatku berdiri saat ini. Rekanku Dr. Charles Peck “Chuck” memberi tahu keberadaan Craig di rumah sakit ini. Kuharap bisa bertemu dia sebelum pulang, maka pertemuan itu hampir seperti takdir Tuhan.

Craig terluka parah saat berpatroli di Irak seminggu sebelum Natal. Dia menderita kerusakan parah di area C-1 tulang belakangnya dan lumpuh dari leher ke bawah. Kini dia terbaring di unit perawatan intensif Walter Reed, ototnya tidak bisa digerakkan. Bermacam-macam peralatan medis dipasangkan dan beragam selang menjalari tubuhnya. Sebuah elektrokardiogram memantau jantungnya, alat bantu pernafasan dan selang pernafasan terpasang di tenggorokkannya.

Meski demikian, mata pemuda itu berbinar saat aku melangkah ke satu sisi tempat tidurnya. Ibunya memperkenalkan kami : “Craig, ini Bob Dole.” Adik perempuan Craig berbaur dengan kami di sekitar tempat tidur. Craig tidak bisa bicara, tapi bisa mendengarku. Dia merespon dengan kedua matanya.

Ketika memandang Craig, kurasakan kobaran emosi membasuh dan nyaris meliputiku. Seperti melihat gambar diriku di cermin enam belas tahun lalu. Dia tinggi dan berotot, tinnginya kira-kira seratus delapan puluh lima sentimeter dan beratnya sekitar 85 kilogra, nyaris sama dengan beratku saat Perang Dunia II. Sejenak aku kembali ke masa itu, di tempat tidur rumah sakit yang sama, dibalut plester, tidak bisa bergerak, lumpuh dari leher ke bawah.

Aku hanya berdiri di samping tempat tidur Craig. Bisa kurasakan jantung berdebar kencang dalam dada, perasaanku membuncah keluar. Aku tahu perjalanan sulit yang dilalui Craig sebelum dia… dan kondisinya jauh lebih buruk dari yang pernah kualami.

Kuulurka tangan. Tangan kiriku menyentuh lengan sang prajurit dan berkata, “Semoga berhasil, Craig. Kau di rumah sakit yang tepat. Mereka akan menjagamu dengan baik.” Kami hanya berkunjung sekitar lima menit.

Kedua mata pemuda itu kupandang sekali lagi, lalu beralih pada ibunya, menyentuh pundaknya dan berkata, “Kami akan berdoa untuk kesembuhan Craig. Tolong beritahu aku kalau ada yang bisa kubantu.”

Sayangnya beberapa hari kemudian, Craig Nelson, pahlawan Amerika itu meninggal dunia. Aku turut berduka untuk keluarganya. Aku jadi lebih bertekad agar buku ini bisa membantu orang-orang memahami rasa sakit dan trauma yang diderita akibat perang.

Aku sudah pernah melihat anak-anak seperti ini di rumah sakit dan mereka sembuh. Orang-orang menghadapi tantangan yang kelihatannya mustahil. Aku melihat diriku di dalamnya. Keyakinan, harapan dan inspirasi apapun yang bisa kutawarkan pada mereka datang dari pengalaman hidupku sendiri.

Generasiku kerap kali disebut generasi terhebat, dan itu bukan gelar yang kami sebut sendiri. Terus terang, kami orang Amerika biasa yang ditakdirkan menghadapi ujian luar biasa. Setiap generasi pemuda pemudi yang berani menghadapi kenyataan perang, berjuang demi kemerdekaan, membela negara dilandasi keinginan menempatkab hidup pada tempat seharusnya adalah generasi hebat.

Pada akhirnya, yang didapatkan orang melalui krisis fisik bukanlah teknologi ataupun cara pengobatan baru. Hal-hal tersebut tentu berguna, akan tetapi keyakinanlah yang memberi kita kekuatan untuk bertahan. Keyakinanlah yang tidak membiarkan kita menyerah. Keyakinanlah yang menjelma menjadi tekad kuat untuk maju. Sesuatu yang dikatakan mustahil bagi kebanyakan orang.

Kesulitan bisa menjadi guru yang kejam, akan tetapi pelajarannya kerap kali menggambarkan hidup kita. Sesering kita berharap bisa kembali dan menghidupkan mereka, melakukan hal-hal dengan cara berbeda, membuat lebih baik, memutuskan lebih bijaksana,. Kita tidak bisa mengubah sejarah, begitu juga perang. Kita bisa menuliskan ulang, mencoba menuangkan pendapat pribadi kita, memutarbalikkannya agar lebih enak, akan tetapi pada akhirnya kebenaran akan terkuak. Pristiwa-peristiwa penting menyisakan kesan tak terlupakan di hati dan pikiran kita. Bagiku, periode menentukan dalam hidup bukan saat menjalankan jabatan tertinggi di negeri ini, tetapi dimulai berahun-tahun sebelumnya, di sebuah negara asing, di tempat yang tak seorangpun tahu namaku.

Ayah dan Ibu tersayang,

Menakjubkan! Aku hampir tak percaya tinggal di tempat yang sangat indah. Masa istirahatku hampir berakhir, tapi sejauh ini aku begitu menikmati keadaanku. Aku akan ikut tur sore ini, juga besok pagi. Aku bisa lihat segala sesuatunya saat semua selesai.

Radio dinyalakan, mengingatkanku saat-saat masih di rumah memutar lagu-lagu Norman Jean. Sejauh ini belum kudengar lagu apapun dari Frank Sinatra. Kurasa dia tidak begitu populer disini.

Berita perang benar-benar kedengaran hebat. Kurasa Russia dan Jepang berencana membantu kami. Jangan jauhkan pandanganmu dari berita, hal-hal hebat akan terjadi.

Nikmatilah sarapan enak pagi ini, telur orak-arik, daging asap, jus tomat, roti panggang dan kopi. Aku benar-benar rindu empat gelas susu per hari. Bilang pada Bibi Mildred pastikan menyisakan sebagian untuk Kenny dan aku saat kami pulang.

Baru kemarin aku pergi ke LT, kamp Eugene tapi belum bertemu dengannya.

Jadi, sampai ketemu lagi

Salam Sayang
Bob

note : CMIIW (Correct Me If I’m Wrong).. thank you :)

 

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