Sunday, Feb. 4, 1991

National Day for PeaceI sat two rows behind the Sammises. Matt was home from basic training . . . a two-week respite. It wasn't hard to tag him, a half head higher than anyone around him, shaved short on the sides and flat on top, dressed in a forest green uniform.

He sat by his little sister. There was an aura of excitement around the whole family to have him home . . . home between times away from home, off discovering a grownup world of bayonets and exotic flowers, waiting for war.

Directly behind me sat Kevin Coleman, who has been training with the Special Forces . . . the Green Berets. He had been home for Christmas, but broke a foot in training and is back again while it heals. Almost a blessing? His mom and dad wonder. Things go so fast from the timid boy to the quiet man.

Yes, time to think. The sound of tanks rushing forward on the TV is too close. They move toward us over the sand. Every now and then they lurch and sway, their massive weight a graceful play of power. It is almost as if there is no room to move out of the way.

Toward the back of the chapel is young Joe Brennan, tall and blond . . . now a Navy man. Black, blue Navy uniform with square collar and thin, white stripes. Married. Only home for a little while; together a brief, few moments to breathe, to love, to say goodbye again.

Matt, they tell me, shoots machine guns on tanks, a turret gun on a pivot that sprays fine lead before the boys on the ground. It doesn't seem so fine, though, when you see them fire. They rock and recoil. The boxes of ammo are heavy and the individual slugs are sharp on the ends, the tracer rounds marked. When they fire it jars you through your shoulders, clear to the backbone.

These are the same boys (was it only months ago?) who played on the gym floor in white Adidas and neon shorts, laughing and ribbing one another, who grinned in class and rollicked in the halls, and concentrated on the here.

A couple of years ago, again in church, I noticed Aaron Call sitting by his father. His coat was draped over the back of his folding chair, creating a soft and portable throne. He looked like a spring sprout . . . an early anemone, a crocus . . . a crisp bright bud. Innocent. Sitting by his father.

Gwynn Dyer, in his book "War," reminds us that military recruits usually have less than 20 years' experience in the world, mostly as children. The most important qualities, he says, that teenagers bring to basic training are enthusiasm and naivete.

I had forgotten.

Thinking of it now, I remember my own days in basic training and the hardened men who yelled me into the rows of proud anonymity. Outside, a shell grew over the shoot of my life; within weeks it hardened to a point. Inside, though, I remember the confusion, the homesick heartache triggered by the slightest sunset.

Matt, Joe and Kevin . . . so many of us have been where you are. The fortunate ones of us were spared the task of using the bloody tools we learned so well in an odd and crazy world beyond our childhood.

In a mood of confusion, I too tie a yellow ribbon in my mind for your safe return. For months after Aug. 2 I struggled to find a different solution for myself than the acceptance of aggression. On the 16th of January I stayed up with millions most of the night, glued to the pinball war unfolding before us in a reality of correspondents reaching for gas masks and a fear I felt to take a plane on a business trip the next day to San Antonio, ironically, where I learned how to kill 30 years ago.

Somehow, beyond this foggy blundering toward a peaceful world, we must find a place of reconciliation, a bond of brotherhood that will bind the wounds of millennia, and make it possible for your own sons and daughters to stay home and plant the flowers of a brighter spring.