“Could you do that?” The implication of the question: “Could you sacrifice yourself?
My friend and I were watching the recently released film, Megan Leavey and were asking one another if we could lead a platoon of marines as they crossed an IED riddled land which looks like the face of the moon: Afghanistan. The true story of a woman who becomes a marine because she had nothing better to do at the time was compelling from the first time I heard of it. And then when I cried through the trailer preview of the tale of Megan and her military war dog, Rex, knew I had to see it.
The movie was even better than I expected, primarily because the screenwriters and director downplayed any initial altruistic motive on the part of Leavey. Even after the clearly troubled young marine gets assigned to cleaning out the Camp Pendleton kennels where the war dogs are caged, there is no immediate connection formed between her and the animals. In fact, Leavey seems only to understand the love she feels for Rex after she has lost him.
Like many of our own experiences in life, the events of this highly decorated soldier feel familiar as we watch. Leavey has no burning desire to serve her country or to learn valor and sacrifice. Rather her actions seem motivated by default seasoned with more than a little defiance.
Much of what ends up to be called heroism seems like that, a strange combination of timing and split second decisions or perhaps reactions. Consequently, we cannot avoid asking that question while we watch:
Could you do that? The real question we’re asking is, of course, could I?
Gabe McAllister was like Leavey. A main character in my second medical mystery novel, Do You Solemnly Swear?, Gabe was a Marine Captain and handler for military war dogs. He joined the marines because he had nothing better to do. While at Camp Pendleton, he fell in love with these military war dogs. Especially a Doberman named Baron who saves his life and those of the entire platoon he led.
I learned, while reading over ten books about war dogs, that it is almost impossible to overestimate their abilities and their nobility. And was not surprised when I met a soldier and his war dog who became the template for Gabe. There was a presence about the former soldier and his war dog, I could touch it.
Each of us has the capacity to sacrifice ourselves for others. It happens when we fall in love. Not the romantic feeling, the emotion and passion. But the decision which lives in another universe.
Like the love felt by Gary Leo Rehm, Jr. when the USS Fitzgerald collided with a merchant ship about fifty-six miles off the coast of Japan a few days ago. The Fitzgerald was struck below the water line, where the sailors sleep and Rehm, “leapt into action.” And dove below to save the lives of at least twenty sailors, losing his own when he went back for more.
Could you do that? Or perhaps more accurately, would you do that?