Victoria and Norm were high school sweethearts who married just before he left for Iraq. Photograph courtesy of the Anderson family
On a Wednesday night, I finished my shift at the restaurant a little early. That was good—it meant more time for drinking. I stopped at a coworker’s apartment to toss back shots of Jack Daniel’s. Sufficiently buzzed, I drove to the Treehouse, a bar near where I was living in the Baltimore suburbs.
The bartender stood in an opposite corner of the bar chatting with a pretty girl. On the TV above him, a story flashed about a Marine who had died. I tried to read the captions, but my mind was hazy and my eyes were tired. About a year had passed since I’d come home from Iraq in 2004.
The bartender came over without a newly poured beer. He stared at me, rubbing his palms. “Hey, Dario,” he said. “This woman over here just had her husband killed in Iraq. Could you . . . .” He didn’t need to finish.
“What’s her name?” I asked.
“I don’t know.”
I took the long path toward her, curving around the length of the bar. I stepped beside her and she looked at me, confused. A few of her friends were with her; they watched me, too.
“Hey,” I said. “I’m a lance corporal in the Marines. I heard about your loss. I’m here for you.” She closed her eyes. Then she dropped her head into my chest and hugged me. I had no idea what I should do.
“What’s your name?” I asked.
The Marine Corps is small. There are only a few degrees of separation between any two people who wear the olive-drab green. There was a chance I knew her husband.
“Victoria Anderson,” she said. “My husband was Lance Corporal Norm Anderson.”
The first time I heard that name, in 2002, I was working as an aide at the Marine Recruiting Substation in Towson. When the Twin Towers fell on 9/11, I had been attending Marine combat training. It seemed stupid to just be a reservist—the “one weekend a month and two weeks a year” warrior I had enlisted as during peacetime. With Afghanistan action under way, I wanted to fight.
I asked about volunteering for the infantry or any active-duty combat job, but my reserve unit in DC turned down those requests. So I took the only full-time Marine position I could find: recruiting assistant.
No one wanted to sign up for war in a mostly healthy economy. In my three months in the recruiting office, someone walked in asking to be a Marine only once. We found everyone else by dialing lists given to us by local schools, holding pull-up competitions or other events, wandering through malls and high schools, and giving incentives such as guaranteed promotions to the poolees—young men and women who had already decided to join—if they got their friends to enlist.
It was my job to make a first contact and get someone to set up an appointment with the recruiters. “Hey, dude, what is one hour of your time compared against the rest of your life?” I would ask. “We just want to give you some options for your future. How does that sound? I think it would be stupid to say no.”
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