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PFC Brian Lazore of the 3rd Battalion of the1st Brigade of the 101st Airborne
Assault Division keeps an eye on an Iraqi prisoner of war. Benjamin Lowy/Corbis

His average age is 19.

He is a short-haired, tight-muscled kid who, under normal circumstances, is considered by society as half man, half boy - not yet dry behind the ears, not old enough to buy beer but old enough to die for his country.

He never really cared much for work, and he would rather wax his own car than wash his father's, but he has never collected unemployment either.

He's a recent high-school graduate; he was probably an average student, pursued some form of sport activities, drives a 10-yearold jalopy and has a steady girlfriend who either broke up with him when he left or swears to be waiting when he returns from half a world away.

He listens to rock `n' roll, hiphop, rap, jazz or swing and weapons fire.

He is 10 or 15 pounds lighter now than when he was home. He is working or fighting from before dawn to well after dusk.

He has trouble spelling, thus letter writing is a pain for him, but he can field-strip a rifle in 30 seconds and reassemble it in less time, in the dark.

He can recite to you the nomenclature of a machine gun or grenade launcher and use either one effectively if he must.

He digs foxholes and latrines and can apply first aid like a professional.

He can march until he is told to stop or stop until he is told to march.

He obeys orders instantly and without hesitation, but he is not without spirit or individual dignity.

He is self-sufficient. He has two sets of fatigues: he washes one and wears the other. He keeps his canteens full and his feet dry.

He sometimes forgets to brush his teeth but never to clean his rifle.


He can cook his own meals, mend his own clothes and fix his own hurts. If you're thirsty, he'll share his water with you; if you are hungry, his food.

He'll even split his ammunition with you in the midst of battle, when you run low. He has learned to use his hands like weapons and weapons like they were his hands. He can save your life - or take it - because that is his job.

He will often do twice the work of a civilian, draw half the pay and still-find ironic humor in it all. He has seen more suffering and death than he should have in his short lifetime.

He has wept in public and in private for friends who have fallen in combat, and is unashamed. He feels every note of the National Anthem vibrate through his body while at rigid attention, while tempering the burning desire to "square away" those around him who haven't bothered to stand, remove their hats, or even stop talking. In an odd twist, day in and day out, far from home, he defends their right to be disrespectful.

Just as did his father, grandfather, and great-grandfather, he is paying the price for our freedom.

Beardless or not, he is not a boy.

He is the American fighting man who has kept this country free for more than 200 years.

He has asked nothing in return except our friendship and understanding. Remember him always, for he has earned our respect and admiration with his blood.

- Author unknown

Reprinted from the June 2003 issue
American Legion Magazine

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