If Vietnam was "the Television War," this one is the iPod War.
Besides confronting whatever happened to them overseas, returning warriors must face the plain fact that their sacrifices and efforts touch few beyond their immediate circle of family and friends. That means the returnees wind up dealing with peace as much as they did war. And each does it in his own way.
Duty, Honor, Country
In some ways, Kyle Turner's entire life had been about preparing for that night near Balad. He was raised in a household that prized duty, honor and country. The atmosphere was disciplined, but loving.
His parents, Jon and Collette, kept such a tight rein on Turner and his older brother Bryce that they later apologized for how strict they were. Jon Turner didn't just act like a drill sergeant -- he was one: a Vietnam vet serving in the Army Reserve. He was also the boys' senior-year English teacher at Mariposa County High and a football coach. "Discipline has always been part of Kyle's life, whether he respected it or not," Jon says.
As a boy, Kyle was strong-willed, rebellious and adventurous, always eager to explore his grandparents' cattle ranch in Hornitos. He was playful and so talkative that a football coach dubbed him "Sir Talk-a-lot." But he had a stubborn streak too -- "he would never back down," said his father -- a trait his parents say got him through that firefight near Balad.
He inherited his mother's smile and his father's steely gaze. Also in his DNA, say his parents, was a need to serve his country. Jon says it's in his family's Scotch-Irish blood. "We show up for America's wars," he explained. They are descendents of pioneer Gold Rush stock with a proud tradition of military service. One great-uncle fought in World War II, and a great-great-uncle went down with the U.S.S. Oklahoma at Pearl Harbor.
"Turners enlist," declares Jon, who volunteered for the Army during the Vietnam war. "We know the cost and we dread any loss, but it never entered my mind to go to Canada in 1968. I walked into the recruiting station at the Federal Building on 18th Street in Merced and they were shocked."
When a Marine from Coulterville -- a former student of Jon's -- was killed in the first Gulf War, the Turners took Kyle and Bryce to his funeral. They were about 6 and 7 years old, and wore the miniature bomber jackets they had gotten for Christmas.
At Kyle's eighth-grade graduation, he delivered a speech that quoted from the Shakespearean passage celebrating military camaraderie, "We few, we happy few, we band of brothers / For he today that sheds his blood with me / Shall be my brother."
It was peacetime, and raising the boys the Army way was meant to give them a sense of discipline and get them through college. It seemed unlikely that they would ever face combat. "I was thinking they would go in, they would serve, they would do their bit and maybe there would be a Somalia," said Jon, who believed that a post-Vietnam United States would never again send troops to war with no clear exit strategy. "We were absolutely blown away when 9/11 happened."
At the time, Kyle's older brother, Bryce, was already in the Army and going through basic training at Fort Benning, Ga. Nine months later when Kyle signed his Army contract, Jon was sick with dread, but tried to put on a brave face. Bryce was then at Walter Reed Hospital recovering from a parachute jump. Collette Turner remembers trying to talk her younger son out of enlisting.
"Just because your brother went, just because your dad went, you don't have to do this," she told him. But Kyle was determined, guided by the values his parents had instilled in him. To get in shape before basic training, he taped a picture of a knight on a horse captioned with the words "Go Army" and "For God, Family, Country" above the treadmill in the living room.