Saturday, June 16, 2012
May 11, 2010 wasn’t a particularly memorable day for most of us. I have no clue what I was doing on that day, but Kendra Pieper Coleman knows exactly where she was. And sadly, she remembers it very well because she was awake for all of it. She was in Afghanistan. Kendra was a soldier. An MP for the 173rd Airborne Unit of the United States Army, she was born in Boulder, Colorado, raised in Jackson, Georgia, and grew up for good in Afghanistan, on May 11, 2010, when an improvised explosive device, (the full term for that particularly evil contraption more commonly known as an IED) exploded on her as she, with other soldiers was helping to clear an Afghan village. She remembers the events that lead to the conclusion of her duty in Afghanistan: villagers told her there was a bomb planted in a wall in a building. It was a trap, and as she went to locate the bomb, the IED went off. She remembers the noise. She remembers thinking that one of her comrades might have been hurt. She remembers falling, amid, and please pardon this, “chunks of flesh and tissue,” only to realize that it was her own left leg that she was seeing, and through which she was unpleasantly falling. She never lost consciousness. War is hell. We know that. Someone has described it as the “lowest form of human behavior, ” and looking at Kendra Coleman now, with a face that recalls Britney Spears’s prettier sister , with a piston-bearing prosthetic left leg that recalls Robo-Cop, it is hard to argue that description. We despise the fiend that tramples the pretty flower. We despise the vandals who would deface the Mona Lisa. And we despise that institution that takes life and limb from earnest young men and women like Kendra Coleman. She has come this week from Houston, Texas, to visit our mutual friend, Amy Haines. I got a call from Amy asking if I would take some photos of Kendra at the new Memorial Park, which I was surprised to learn bears a plaque with Kendra’s name and status. I agreed, and was already waiting when they arrived. I watched them pull up in Kendra’s monster truck, which looks flashy but is in reality at least partly functional. Since she now wears a prosthetic, the only vehicle she can get in and out of without major difficulty is something high off the ground and with a lot of room. Hence, the truck. As requested, I snapped away as Kendra located the plaque with her name. I wondered what was going through her mind as she first just looked at it and everything sunk in, and then as she slowly ran her fingers over the engraved letters, I could feel the pride. I asked her if she was pissed off. She looked at me for explanation, and I nodded towards her leg. She said that she had been, at first, but that she realized that if she stayed angry, if she let it run her life, then the enemy had won, and she wasn’t going to let that happen. I pointed to her head as I asked, “Are you okay there?” “I still have some wicked nightmares, but basically I am okay.” I snapped a few more photos of Kendra, with Amy, her best friend since childhood. The love is obvious. The nightmares…aren’t. I am sure they will go away soon. The enemy has already been defeated.