letters from basic training: rory’s making the best of it

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Hey everybody, Rory says Hi.

No, seriously. He wrote from basic training in Ft. Jackson, S.C., the other day and said, “tell everybody back home I said Hi.”

So to Traci at Dunkin’ Donuts who is always asking about him, to the ladies at the supermarket and the folks at the bank who ask about him, to the mail carrier who wants to know how he’s doing, Rory says Hi.

If you have a chance, check out some of the pictures on the Ft. Jackson Facebook page. Go to 1st Battalion 34th Regiment Always Forward page and click on photos. Rory is in the 3rd Platoon Bravo Company.

Thousands of pictures. Amazing stuff these young men and women are required to do. I spent the better part of a morning recently looking at them and thought I spotted my boy jogging down the road with his platoon. I thought I saw him in the firing range leaning against a post and patiently waiting his turn. I thought I saw him in a classroom among the 100-or-so other soldiers.

“Honey, look,” I said. “I think that’s him sitting way back there holding the yellow highlighter. He has safety goggles on, but I think that’s him.”

She said it wasn’t him.

Leave it to a mother to spot her son. She sat at the computer with my daughter and she picked him out in no time. He was second in line coming out to the gas chamber. He was waving his arms and his burning eyes were closed tight. Diane recognized his ears. She recognized his nose. She recognized his hairline.

“His what?” I asked.

“His hairline,” she said. “It goes back a little by the temples and comes back down in a little point near the tops of his ears.”

She spotted him firing his M-16. I said, “no way. You can’t tell that’s him.”

Kathleen reached over across her mom, pressed a couple of keys and zoomed in.

“That’s him!” I shouted. “That’s Rory! He’s shooting a rifle. That’s him!”

We have since found several other photos, but that first one was a thrill. It had been a month since I had seen him. He looks good in uniform. Grown up.

He called on Father’s Day. It was the first time in a month that I’ve spoken to him. It was a quick call. Everyone else in the house wanted a minute or two and he was limited in how long he could be on the phone. Besides, he had to call a special girl so we had to cut it short.

He’s been writing to us, though. Long letters by his standards. Sometimes two or three pages. And he’s been getting letters from a lot of us.

As I look at these young men and women, I wonder what it was inside them that made them want to do this. They’re up at 3:45 a.m. running for miles with heavy gear on their backs as the sun comes up in South Carolina. They are pushing themselves beyond any bounds they had previously set for themselves. When Rory was home from college after his freshman year, it was all I could do to get him out of bed before noon.

And there he is, with hundreds of others, doing whatever is asked of him, whenever it is asked of him, no debate, no negotiation, no hesitation. Just do it.

One letter was particularly touching and brought tears to my eyes and his mother’s when she read it. He said that a small group of soldiers, maybe five or six, occasionally get together during their free time and have a Bible study. “Sometimes God is the only person I can talk to,” he wrote in one letter.

It made me think that for the first time in his life, he is in a place where absolutely nobody loves him. But he’s not alone. These soldiers have each other. And they have God, if they so choose.

Rory Shaughnessey will graduate from Basic Combat Training on July 29, after which he will complete his Advanced Individual Training at Ft. Meade, Md. He will begin his second year of collage at Bob Jones University in January.