I can’t remember what brought it up, but Dad and I were talking about being in the military. I suppose it was because I had just told him of my decision to re-enlist.

He said if I was going to be a professional soldier that I should be aware there was a price to pay for that decision. I perhaps wouldn’t understand today, and he wasn’t going to explain but that there was a price and it was a high one. He was correct that I didn’t understand just exactly what he meant but I was aware that he was serious about what he was talking about. He also said, as I got older, that I would begin to understand and when I did, it would be a revelation to me.

Dad was an independent businessman, and he owned an industrial maintenance company and was, at that time, a manufacturer of hydraulic presses. I knew that he’d been in WWII but not much more than that. Later he told me he had been on Guadalcanal with the Raiders and was wounded there. He was discharged because of wounds and spent the rest of the war as the captain of a seagoing tug pulling barges from Puget Sound to the Aleutian Islands of Alaska. I know that my family had soldiers on both sides in the Civil War or as my grandmother called it, “The War of Northern Aggression” so you can guess which side her father was on.

I find it interesting that most Americans don’t know anyone who is a Soldier, Sailor, Airman, Coastguardsman or Marine. Most civilians, when they think of soldiers (if they ever do) and of the soldiers price, think that it is the cost of keeping a soldier, the beans, and bullets, pay, billets, the cost of maintaining the equipment, bases and the cost of transportation uniforms and tin-ware in all its myriad forms. While this is a part of the price of a soldier, the “Soldiers’ Price” is completely different. It is paid in blood, tears and vast amounts of physical effort, pain and suffering. Sometimes it is paid in the most precious of currency, human life. I don’t think anyone can really understand the “Soldiers’ Price” without having served as a member of the military. It doesn’t matter if you were in the Army, Navy, Air force, a Coastguardsman or a Marine, you will taste the communion wine of the “Soldiers’ Price.” If you haven’t been there you won’t understand, believe me when I tell you this. Until you have “seen the elephant” you will be as the blind men in the children’s fable. I hope that when you finish reading this, you will get a small blink of understanding. Also understand that I don’t wish on anyone who doesn’t make the choice freely and without reservation the “Soldiers’ Price”.

The “Soldiers’ Price” is paid in time away from family and friends; It’s paid by the loss of time with your love in far distant lands, cold nights in the rain and wind. It’s paid with days in hot sweltering lands, with days or even weeks without a bath or clean clothing and water that is bitter and so stinking that it gives you the bloody runs and no matter how much you wash it leaves you as dirty as before. It is paid by disease and wounds both received and dealt. It’s paid with the memory that your children are growing up so fast and because of Duty, Honor, Country and the sacred oath you made when you enlisted, you can’t spend the time they deserve with them.

The “Soldiers’ Price” is paid by remembering the men and women who didn’t make it home and the guilt of knowing that you could have, should have and would have if necessary, died along with them but for some inexplicable reason, you survived. It’s paid with enduring the cruel cuts of civilians who are the recipients of the liberty you defend. By ignoring the comments of relatives that believe that the only reason you stay in the military is because you “can’t make it on the outside”. It’s paid with the knowledge that at the end of a long career when you retire or are discharged you will have to go back to work starting at a low pay scale that all of your same-age peers have long since left.

If I hadn’t paid the “Soldiers’ Price”, I wouldn’t remember far places that I have seen. I remember jungles, dark, thick and humid, with mist through the trees drifting like smoke, the mountain passes with high-thrust peaks above and forests hidden under clouds below. I remember rice paddies embanked high with water buffalo pulling plows through the muck and mud. I remember desert landscapes with the horizon curving off, sand, rock and clay unbroken by anything but the sky” I remember sunsets brilliant with all the colors of God’s palette displayed in glory.

Because I paid the “Soldiers’ Price” I also have nights when I can’t sleep, when memories that I wish I could lose appear with teeth bared and flashes of darkness that keep me until dawn breaks.

James L. Wright, Vietnam Veteran 1971/1972

Faces, places and incidents surface when I least need them and occupy my waking time at times when I least expect them. I can smell the smoke of dust raised by bullets striking around me and wake to the stench of combat from my sleep. I hear the last, lost words of my comrades in my memories. Would I pay the “Soldiers’ Price” again?
You bet! Absolutely! Always and forever I am grateful for the privilege of defending my nation, my family and my friends. I look with pride and am grateful for those who see and understand the necessity of taking up the burden of the “Soldiers’ Price”. I accept the memories and the disturbance those memories bring, also the joy of memories that I wouldn’t have without having paid the “Soldiers’ Price”.

These are a part of what formed me and make me who I am. I remember those who went before me and honor their names and sacrifice. I keep all this in a sea bag of past days I keep close to me always, packed and buckled. I feel sorry for all those who never made the choice to pay the “Soldiers‘ Price“. They will never understand, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I am, like my father, an independent businessman, mostly retired now but I still do a little work and make Grill badges and Hitch Covers for cars and desk plates for executive desks and emblems for office and home decoration. They are mostly military unit patches and insignia.

On the desk plate and decoration bases I now engrave the words “Remember the Soldiers’ Price” because we should all remember the “Soldiers’ Price”.
~ James L. Wright, USMC Veteran and former Artillery Scout Observer

Veteran Stories collected by and featured on veteran tribute page COMES A Soldier’s Whisper