Saturday, July 12, 2008

Gains and Losses

The flight from Columbus, Ohio to Charlotte Wednesday evening was a rough one in more ways than one. The lady sitting next to me sat quietly until we were diverted to another airport because of weather and low fuel, and then she began to cry. As we sat on the tarmac at Raleigh-Durham waiting for thunderstorms to clear she began to talk.

Anyone who knows me well, knows that there is not an empathetic bone in my body. Even some of my closest friends (two out of the three) have told me that I can be a cold-hearted sonuvagun. I used to think it was a character flaw. Then, I was tested on the Myers-Briggs personality battery and pegged as an INTJ--evidently INTJs have no feelings for the plights of others. Famous historical INTJs include some rather notorious emperors, dictators, and autocrats. Not a very esteemed group with which to be associated--but at least I have an excuse for being so indifferent to my fellow man. Lucky for the world this personality group is the smallest of the sixteen identified.

So, there I was, stuck on a grounded flight next to a teary-eyed woman who felt the need to share her misery. Turns out, she had a right to cry and I subsequently told her so. She was returning to her present home in Florida after burying her mother in her family's hometown in Ohio. Her father had died two years ago, all the rest of her family had left Ohio years ago, and the site of so many of her happy childhood memories was no longer reachable as a touchstone. As we talked (I drew on some counseling lessons from the Marine Corps leadership manual) she related that her husband had survived a bout with cancer and her daughter's fiance had recently been killed in Iraq. I got the feeling she didn't normally share her grief with strangers and I was suddenly overcome with the strangest sensation--like someone was squeezing my blood pumper and my eye wash reservoir at the same time.

I'm beginning to realize that, despite my numbness, this life is hard for most folks. Losing friends and loved ones is painful stuff.

I lost a fellow Marine, with whom I had served on a number of occasions, in Iraq a couple of weeks ago. Lieutenant Colonel Max Galeai was commanding the 2d Battalion, 3rd Marines and was deployed to the area near Mosul, north of Baghdad. While Max was attending a meeting with several tribal leaders, a terrorist entered and blew up the bomb he carried. Max and the two Marines with him, along with a dozen Iraqis, were killed.

I first served with Max when I was the operations officer for the 1st Battalion, 8th Marines and he was a platoon commander in one of the rifle companies. He wasn't flashy, but he was very effective--a leader who put his men first and got the most out of them. Max rose through the commissioned officer ranks, commanding at greater and greater levels of responsibility and was destined, I am sure, for further advancement.

Sad thing is, I don't think, in all of the times we served together, I ever told him I thought he was doing a great job. Shame on me.

Semper Fidelis, Max.
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