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The Courage to be Courageous…

Courage.  I am not much of a philosopher; nor am I a sociologist.  But I think about courage and what it takes to be courageous.

We veterans tend to define courage based on acts of heroism, acts of selflessness…acts of instant response to combat and attack without personal regard to safety.   We reward acts of courage with medals and celebrate the heroism.  Our warriors give us strength and a reason to admire sacrifice.

Yet, is this the only way that we can define courage?  I think not. 

Let me tell the story of a Marine that I know.  He suffered a traumatic brain injury several years ago.  Not a combat injury but a devastating stroke.  This injury changed his life forever. He has serious cognitive impairments, lack of control of his left arm and leg, and speech aphasia.  He spent months in a VA hospital enduring physical and speech therapy…struggling to survive.  And he did.  Today he lives in his own apartment, does some cooking and takes care of himself.  He had the courage to fight his battle; the courage to continue against all odds.  He is an inspiration to me.

And I have met this veteran, a woman, who suffered MST years ago while on active duty serving her country.  The courage that she displays inspires me for many reasons.  But what impresses me the most is the courage she has had to tell the truth. You see, telling the truth can sometimes require us to muster every bit of strength in our reservoir,  then some more , when every instinct may be crying out to stay quiet, because the truth can hurt beyond description.  May we call this courage under fire?  I think, yes.

I think of those with PTSD resulting from combat experiences.  Brave and courageous in war I am certain.  For some that may have been relatively easy by comparison.  Confronting the memories and nightmares and losses and fear is not so easy, taking enormous courage that must come from within one’s soul.  When in combat, we act based on our training and instincts and do what we have to do.  Afterwards, the experiences go down deep inside not to reappear for years in some cases.  And when these memories return with a vengeance, it requires the courage to be courageous…all over again. 

I am in awe of the courage that the families of those far away in some other world, a world of daily threats, display.  This is courage stretched to the limit and without reservation.  It requires a steady course of resolve to be sure.  But, I think more than that, it requires the courage to live and feel the same fear their loved ones feel everyday…every hour.  They feel the threat and show the courage to be courageous. 

Courage.  Is it just about bullets coming towards us?  Some of the time it is about the bullet stuck deep inside that asks us to find the courage to be courageous. 

Randy Kautto
Vietnam Veteran
rdkautto@gmail.com

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