The Men Behind the Dog Tags

WBP Staff Writer Helen Phillips

December 23, 2023

There is no better high than being a combat wounded Purple Heart recipient in the middle of a 64,000 plus mega patriotic crowd with brothers and sisters that got your six. American flags flying, parachuters falling from the sky, helicopters, fighter planes, music, roaring cadets, veterans, active and retired service members everywhere! This would be the epic match up between Army and Navy at Gillette Stadium, the home of the patriots! Six of our Purple Heart members were in attendance and excited to check this experience off their bucket list!

The weekend was full of excitement, smiles, and laughter as we attended the game, had a surprise visit from a four-star General in the stands with our group specifically for a photo op, and toured the historic sites of Boston. Navigating our way through history from the USS Constitution, Copp’s Hill, the Old North Church, Paul Revere’s House, and lunch at Warren Tavern that was frequented by Paul Revere, George Washington and Benjamin Franklin.

As we trekked through town snapping pictures and navigating the Freedom Trail we turned a corner and came to an abrupt halt! There right in front of us was a wooden framed structure holding row upon row of hundreds of blank nameless dog tags. In the blink of an eye, we were face to face with those we lost in the battle.  A memorial for those that died in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. The magnitude of this moment of silence pierced our hearts, numbed our joy, and mangled our emotions. No matter how many years pass, the pain of losing those that fought by your side never goes away. We hung there in a space and time that is neither comfortable nor wanted, but necessary.

As each one in our group took their time, confronted their demons while comforted by one another, they found their strength to gather themselves, fashion their armor and turn to continue marching forward through life. They are the men and women behind the dog tags as those they lost are never forgotten, they are a part of their souls and help make them who they are today.

Once again marching away from the past and stepping into the present, a conscious act done almost daily with grit and courage, this group lifted each other up. Ever so slightly they let laughter creep back into their hearts ready to pump joy back into the world.