Lance Corporal Julian Woodall, USMC, was killed in action in Al Anbar province, Iraq on May 22, 2007. What made Julian different from all the other soldiers and Marines killed in Iraq this month was that I knew his father. Jerry Woodall worked for the Public Service Commission and he and I weathered many storms together at the State emergency operations center during the tumultuous 2004 and 2005 hurricane seasons. The death of his son made Jerry as much a veteran of the war as I was.
When I returned from Iraq I experienced the age-old problem of the veteran: trying to explain the war to the civilians who remained behind. The percentage of the American popualtion who are familiar with the military is very low. Most of any knowledge that they have comes from movies or television, a dubious source at best. Much of the experience of being in a war comes from the culture of the particular sevice with which one serves. There is a rich history, language and social standards that come with each service. This culture is the foundation upon which each individuals war experience is laid. Explaining the war experience to the uninitiated is like translating from one language to another with only a tourist guidebook. A lot gets lost in the translation.
Jerry, his wife Meredith and Julian's widow Melissa entered a foreign, untranslatable world the night of May 22 when three Marines arrived at their door with terrible news. Just as I am unable to truly explain what happened to me in Iraq Jerry will never be able to relate the feelings and emotions that come with losing a child in a war. In this sense Jerry has become a veteran of the war. He has joined, unwillingly, a growing population of parents who were thrust into the same situation. They are all, we are all, veterans of this war and all wars.