Orphan Survival Stories Index |
SOMETHING TO DIE FOR
In August 1961, I was ordered by the Duval County Juvenile Court to enter the Armed Forces of the United States of America. I remember that day as if it were yesterday. I would not be 16 years old for several more months, but Judge Gooding felt that by entering the military service, it might "make a man of me."
Though I was somewhat afraid of what unknown adventures lay ahead of me, I knew or at least hoped that military life could not possibly be as bad as living in a Jacksonville, Florida orphanage. The Children's Home Society was my home for more than 10 years. It had also been a living hell of constant beatings and sexual abuse - unspeakable things that would unknowingly follow me into my adult life.
Military life appeared to be right up my alley or so I thought. I mean after all, living in an institutional setting was all I knew. From as far back as I could remember, I was told what I could and could not do. I took for granted that it was the same for most other children, even the one's who had parents. I guess the only difference was that I had never been allowed to even go to the bathroom or get a drink of water, without asking permission first. Even when we orphans ate our meals, we were told how fast or slow we should do it.
Basic training went rather well for me. I became a squad leader right off the bat. I did not know what the heck I was doing most of the time. After all, I had never been put in a position where I could tell someone else what to do. I know that it was important to me that I always be fair. That was more than anyone had ever done for me as a kid.
I remember going to the PX and buying beer for the very first time. I would sit for hours listening to some of the older soldiers talk about this place called Vietnam. They would drink one beer after the other, until they were in a drunken state. They would talk about friends who were killed or wounded. Then some would start to cry. I would sit not saying a word, just listening. I would watch their faces as they occasionally laughed. Their expressions never changing as large slow tears rolled down their cheeks.
It was very hard for me to understand how these fellows could talk about such things. How could these guys know about being in a war? War was for old people. That is what I saw on television and on the movie screen.
"I'll fight and die for my mother and my father," said one of the soldiers raising his beer in the air.
"I would fight for my girlfriend," said another raising his bottle.
"What about you, Kiser?" asked one of the soldiers looking down at my nametag.
I didn't know what to say. My mind raced trying to figure out if I had anyone or anything in the world that I would die for.
"I didn't come in the army to die for anything," I stated. "I just came in the army to become a man."
"Everybody has something they would fight and die for," said one of the soldiers.
"I ain't got no mom and dad, and I ain't never had no girlfriends. I ain't got no family and I ain't got no home at all. Just the orphanage is all I know about. I don't want to die for that," I said.
"Then I guess you'll have to die for nothing," said the soldier with all the medals on his jacket.
I will never forget hearing those words for as long as I live. I got up from the table and walked outside. I leaned against the railing and cried uncontrollably. At 16, I had already learned and accepted the fact that I had nothing to live for, and that was okay by me. But now I had come to the realization that I had nothing, as well as no one important in my life that I could die for.
I suppose that is why I try to make sure that children living in orphanages know they are cared about and loved. If and when they are called upon to do their duty for their country, I want them to feel, without any doubt, that they have a reason or someone that is worth dying for. Having something or someone worth dying for is what makes life so wonderful.