The Yellow Ribbon

The day I heard about the invasion of Kuwait, August 2nd 1990, I was 14 years old and I didn’t want to be a nerdy kid who cared about world politics. In my school that got you nowhere. I wanted to care about the latest band, the latest song, shopping & hairstyles. (Like how to get those teased bangs even higher!)

I distinctly remember telling my dad, “I don’t care that the Iraqis invaded Kuwait, what does it have to do with me?”

Boy, did I set myself up for something big that day.

A few weeks later my brother was among thousands of US soldiers taking up residence in the Saudi desert. (And so seriously bothering Osama Bin Laden that his US hatred fully solidified.) Not that the US soldiers were thrilled to be in the land of the two holy mosques, my brother recalls that the Saudi desert was just heat, sand, heat, sand, heat, sand and heat.

I thought at this point, okay, so the Iraqis invading Kuwait really did have something to do with me after all. I couldn’t believe that my brother was in the middle of it all. (Or that I would be there in less than two years time.)

I started wearing a yellow ribbon – that is what you do in America if your relative goes to war. I decorated my locker at school with photos and ribbons. Me and another girl, who I hardly knew, were the only two with any relatives in the desert. One day I found my father’s old Army dog tags on a chain. He had worn them during his time in the army back in 1964 – he was in Germany and was extremely lucky to miss out on the horror that was Vietnam. I took his old dog tags and decorated them up with yellow ribbons. I wore them everyday, everywhere.

I don’t know if my brother knew it at the time, but he was my hero. Not because he was a marine serving in the gulf. But because he was my big brother. I worshiped him, even though he mostly ignored me, or farted on me if he did notice me. (I bet he is proud of that memory.)

The yellow ribbons started to fade and unravel quickly, and they had to be replaced often. In an effort to be adequately covered, I took a short piece of ribbon and entwined it through several holes in my tough leather motorcycle jacket.

Later, when I was myself in Kuwait, and someone caught sight of the yellow ribbons on the jacket, they asked me why an American was wearing the color of the “Remember the Kuwaiti POWs campaign.” I explained what it means in America and how my brother had been part of the military during the Kuwait invasion and liberation. He seemed shocked. He didn’t expect that my family had been involved in the war, only in the aftermath – the rebuilding. I wasn’t wearing the yellow ribbon in memory of the POWs, but I did know what it was like to wait for someone to come home. To hope for that, and to cry for that.

These memories came back to me this weekend as I watched the HBO documentary “Baghdad ER,” when I saw all those buff soldiers with their close-cropped hair and tattooed skin, injured and hurt. Could’ve been my brother. Those soldiers are all somebody’s brother, son, husband, father, uncle, or nephew. (And someone’s wife, daughter, mother, aunt or niece.) Someone out there is feeling what I felt all those years ago – the waiting and the uncertainty. Except for now it is all so much worse, so much more cloudy, so deadly, so unending and in many ways, so senseless.

If you haven’t already, watch Baghdad ER – available from HBO.com. It will break your heart. I thought that I would be prepared for it, having spent my childhood watching MASH and China Beach. It is devastatingly real.

I still support the troops, although I no longer wear a yellow ribbon. The yellow ribbon is only for my memory now, tucked away in a box. I hope that for thousands of other Americans the yellow ribbon can be just a memory, too.

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