A Father Deploys His Son to War

BY Herschel Smith
17 years ago

So this is how it all ends?  Boot Camp at Parris Island, leading to School of Infantry, leading to the fleet and all of the ranges and training, leading to … Iraq.

It is hard even to know how to begin to express my feelings.  My usually quick hand taps the keyboard in boredom and listlessness as I try to write this post.  My mind, usually capable of handling Alvin Plantinga and Paul Helm, darts from one disconnected thought to another, and my prayers have become literally childlike-simple, even utterances and mumblings and repitition.  Sleep comes very hard these days.  When trying to figure out how we felt, the only thing to which my wife and I could make a comparison with the deployment of our son was a recent death in the family.  The fatigue, the sickness on the stomach, the sadness; deploying him has been like enduring a death in the family.

The mere thought of silly and trite television viewing makes be sick, and I want more than anything else information about the war.  Not the biased and leftist information from the main stream media, nor the cheerleading sis-boom-bah reporting from the conservative web sites.  No, I want the truth … and frankly, I think I am entitled to it.

I have followed Operation Iraqi Freedom for a while, writing as often as I could to express both agreements and disagreements, make observations, and give my readers an alternative view of the things that are transpiring in Iraq.  In the time I have been writing I have had to learn about counterinsurgency, MOUT, snipers, EFPs, body armor, rules of engagement, nonkinetic operations, squad rushes and room clearing tactics, Iraqi geography and the differences between Sunni and Shi’a.  I have jettisoned my reading list and picked up the Small Wars Manual and the recently published Counterinsurgency Manual.  My favorite e-mails are from people discussing military matters – because nothing else much matters at the moment.

It is hard to know where to go from here.  I spend much time in prayer and some time in fasting.  But writing?  It has been too difficult, and I have not posted in some time.  I recall the counsel that Donald Sensing gives concerning writing on a web log: do it mainly for yourself.  If others benefit from your journal, then so much the better.  I suppose I will keep doing this, albeit at a slower pace.  My wife and daughter think I am driving myself crazy with my study of the war.  My other son Joshua thinks that if I don’t study and write I will drive myself crazy.  Perhaps they are all wrong and I am already crazy.  In the end, my son deserves to be mentioned in my journal, so as hard as it was to send him off, here it goes.

We showed up in Jacksonville, N.C., on Saturday morning to begin our last visit with Daniel before he deployed.  It was good to be with him.  Not good in the usual sense of the word.  Our words flow too quickly and without serious thought when we aren’t under duress.  No, it was really good to be with him.  The visiting actually started the weekend before when we met him at the beach, family and friends, to spend quality time together.

This time it was different than previous visits.  The stress was gone, and the preparations for what was going to happen were completed.  There was only the here and now, the time to sit at the beach and talk and play football, the opportunity to grill steaks and enjoy meals together.

But the weekend we saw him off things moved apace.  Backpacks and sea bags were packed, geared was stowed away, and weapons were checked out of the armory.  He and I did manage to slip in a movie, and along with a Corporal in his unit who stayed with his family, Daniel stayed with us in the hotel the night before he deployed.  Again, it was good to be with him.  We kept his truck, and getting up at 0430 hours to get him back to Camp Lejeune wasn’t exactly in the plan, but I adapted with the help of some caffeine.

When my wife and I went back later in the morning to the parking lot between the barracks and the New River, we arrived to a mountain of backpacks and sea bags, M16s, SAWs, cars and families seeing their sons or husbands off.  Daniel tailgated with us for a while, and we got in another meal with him at our car.  Pictures were taken, families huddled up, and hugs were frequent in the parking lot that day.  A truck showed up, and backpacks and sea bags quickly made their way via a chain of Marines to be loaded up.  Contrary to the predictions, the busses arrived as scheduled.

Seeing them get on the bus was the hardest part.  My wife cried, and as I turned to look at the mother of the Corporal who stayed in the hotel with us the previous night, she was crying as well.  [This was the Corporal’s third combat tour.  Note to self concerning subsequent deployments: this doesn’t get any easier.]  Wives were distraught, but the men were jacked up and ready to go.  The busses rolled out soon after arrival, and then it was over.

The long drive home was lonely.  The exhaustion and preoccupation the remainder of the week was debilitating, and remains so to some degree.  I guess I expected much of this.  What I really didn’t expect was the reaction of some people to my son’s deployment.  Perhaps I should have known.  I recall a fellow marine parent from Connecticut wrote me once and expressed surprise at the reaction of his ‘friends’ to his son’s deployment.  In Connecticut, he said, many people saw the war as criminal adventurism, and he and his wife literally lost friends due to his son’s involvement in the war.  My son Josh made an insightful observation about this, responding to me that this father didn’t really lose friends; he weeded out the worthless.

With us it hasn’t taken on quite as draconian a form as that.  It is more subtle.  At first my wife wondered why those strange people were giving her those strange looks and gestures, until she saw what they were looking at when they did those things: her USMC car tags and stickers – things that Daniel calls moto-gear (motivational stuff that he wouldn’t be caught dead sporting … his only moto-gear is a USMC tattoo in Old English down the back of his left arm).

But there is an even more subtle form of disrespect that has become apparent to us.  Ignoring us, our son’s service, and the cost to our family.  To be sure, some people at work mention it and tell me they’re praying for his safety.  Some people at church do as well.  Were it not for our small group fellowship at church, we probably couldn’t make it.  But for those long time ‘friends’ at work and (yes, even at) church who, after hearing us mention our son, fail even to say a word, much less say they will pray for us, it causes me to wonder how I could have ever considered those people friends.  How odd this seems to me.  How could my discernment have been so poor?

Now there is only the waiting, and hoping that a fateful phone call or visit doesn’t happen.  It is the not knowing and not hearing that makes this so hard.  All we can do is pray, write to him and pray some more. And lean on our true friends.  I would go to Iraq in a heartbeat to write and report, but don’t even know how to make such a thing happen.  For the time being, my body is at work every day, but my heart is in a place I’ve never been.  Iraq.



Just before the busses arrived, a pile of sea bags in the background, SAW in hand.

[Note: Nothing related to operational security has ever been or will ever be divulged on this web site.]

Trackbacks & Pingbacks


  1. On April 12, 2007 at 11:20 pm, Oak Leaf said:


    What can I say? I have boarded “the plane” four times in a 20 plus year career and said my good byes. The first two times, I only said goodbye to my wife. That was “OK.” The last two times I said good bye to my children. That was “tough.”

    You have just done, what I could not do.

    My heart goes out to you, your son/my fellow Infantryman Daniel and your family.

    God Bless to all of you.

  2. On April 13, 2007 at 1:13 am, Mike said:

    We will gladly pray for your son and his comrades, my friend. And for you and Momma, as well. May God see them all home safely.

  3. On April 13, 2007 at 12:45 pm, Kelly said:

    Thanks for the cry this morning. Many thanks to your family and your son for all that they do for our Country.

  4. On April 13, 2007 at 1:48 pm, Sando said:

    My prayers go to you and your family. I pray also for your son’s safety and his team. The USMC takes care of their own. He can’t be in a better warfighting outfit.
    Semper Fi

  5. On April 13, 2007 at 3:26 pm, Flag Gazer said:

    This process has its own difficulties and realities, but when you add on to it the discernment between friends and acquaintances it puts in into a bizarre reality. Surprises will happen on both sides. You won’t really loose any ‘friends’, you will now just put them in the proper category.

    There are many of us who do care about the welfare of the family and of your son. You have our genuine thoughts and prayers every day. May God’s blessings be with all of you.

  6. On April 13, 2007 at 4:08 pm, Dave said:

    Herschel – You and your entire family are and have been in our prayers. We love you so much but nothing close to what God does! We thank Daniel, and ya’ll, for standing up militarily in our nation’s best interest. We do not pretend that anyting about it is simple, cut-and-dried. The facts that God knows all about and loves your entire family, is sovereign, has “the King’s heart in His hand”, and “directs men’s paths” are powerful and sufficient. May you find emotional and spiritual comfort in these truths. May God grant Daniel comfort and protection, yes victory over Satan’s forces, and all of you comfort and reunion.

  7. On April 13, 2007 at 5:09 pm, Jackie Rice said:

    I feel your pain. I also relate because we also have a son in Iraq. He is the batallion commander over 620 men – a huge responsibility and their mission has increased with the “surge” the President ordered as they provide the security for all the supplies that travel all over Iraq – they long 100,000 miles a week. Our son leaves a wife and 3 sons at home. He has been there since July of 2006. The batallion chaplain, a strong Christian, recently sent us a 30minute video of life in their camp. We would be willing to share it with you if you might be interested. Let us know; we can be reached at 704-545-6993. Your wife might remember me from the church choir of many years. Although we now attend Grace Church (Doug Agnew) we are friends with Dave and Lucille Ruths. May God give you the peace that you yearn. And we are willing to be a leaning post if you so desire.
    Murray and Jackie Rice

  8. On April 13, 2007 at 9:05 pm, Sue Nitchell said:

    Been there, done that… and will again as my Army son goes again in 08. I watched my husband go to Thailand during Nam and my son off to Iraq. The kid was the hardest. The greatest peace of mind came after he bought a cell phone. Talked to him more while he was in Iraq than I do now that he is stateside. It cost me 8 cents a minute to call him. I think I dialed about 36 numbers and two or three rings and my boy was on the line. The year really flew once I was able to talk to him all the time.

  9. On April 14, 2007 at 2:04 am, Breakerjump said:

    Sue, how is it possible to operate a cell-phone in Iraq? Was your son in a large hard-base or a forward operating base? What steps do we need to take to get something like this set up for Daniel? Thanks in advance…

  10. On April 14, 2007 at 11:02 am, Sue Mtchell said:

    The Iraqi people have cell phones. I don’t know if they are countrywide or just in big cities. My son was near Mosul. Someone bought the cell phone from a local store in Mosul. It has to be purchased there to work on their system. I bought international phone cards on the internet. I always went with the cheapest without a huge connection fee. He said the hardest part was getting phone cards for his phone. It was 28 cents a minute for him to call out but he received calls free. I was spending about $40. a month calling him, but the peace of mind was priceless.

  11. On April 15, 2007 at 9:16 pm, Calvin & Vicki Hall said:

    There are those praying for Daniel and you both. Our heart aches with what we can only imagine you are going through. Daniel is not my son but somehow, knowing he is over there I look at the war news on Fox a little differently now. When I hear of bad things, I hold my breath until I hear from you that you have talked to him. I don’t call when I hear news because I don’t want to add to your worries.
    My heart also aches to read of your “friends” response. To lighten this load you carry may I offer one thing? People don’t know what to say…I can see and feel that in your letter. Just like I don’t want to call to find out is he safe after some big fight in Iraq, maybe they don’t know what to say at all.
    Your reference to as hard as deaths in family is well put, it is a separation. Maybe we should all learn what I learned in back to back deaths of my parents. You don’t have to know what to say….you just let people know you love them…that is the comforting part.
    I know during your absences that Daniel has been mentioned by name in our church for prayer, more than once in the last few weeks, during the Pastoral Prayer.
    Daniel belongs to the Lord and we are praying for his safe return.

  12. On April 21, 2007 at 7:54 pm, Steve & Patty Marion said:


    Your anguish is understandable, and war is a fearsome thing. And, you can be assured that Patty and I will be praying, not only for the safety of Daniel and his compatriots, but for the Lord’s shalom to be upon you and your family.

    As a student of military history and military science you are aware that since the birth of this nation every generation has had it’s armed conflict. That knowledge, however, does not mitigate a parent’s heartache when that bus comes to take their child away.

    During the first Gulf War our son enlisted in the Marines with a heart determined to go there and take care of business. That was not my wish for him, but when I saw how he distinguished himself during basic training and when I saw how “tall” he stood at the Parris Island graduation ceremony…well, his Dad swallowed hard and fought back tears. Such a “can do” spirit. Such an eagerness to serve his country. A very proud Marine with a very proud Dad. Then, about halfway through Infantry School at Camp LeJeune the Corps felt it necessary to release him for medical reasons. We bow to the sovereignty of the Almighty, but our son hasn’t walked as tall since.

    I said that to say I had to prepare to send him to war. That’s never an easy thing for a Dad to do. My own Dad had to send me off to Vietnam. And, his Dad had to send him off to deal with our enemy in the South Pacific theater of World War II. And so it goes.

    It’s a hard thing we parents have to do when duty calls our children away. Ours is the Land of the Free…because of the Brave.

    Herschel, Vicki and Calvin were right. Sometimes your friends just don’t know what to say at a time like this. But, be assured you and your wife are loved by many, and you will not be bearing this load alone.

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You are currently reading "A Father Deploys His Son to War", entry #492 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) Marine Corps,Military Blogging,War & Warfare and was published April 12th, 2007 by Herschel Smith.

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