|SGT Brian Colby and I, Najaf, Iraq - March 2003|
We crept across the road while the holy city slept. Through dirt clod fields and manure-muck furrows, each trampling foot, left step, right step in time, brought us nearer the green, two-dimensional objective. In the infantry’s field of view, a dark-green night vision sky bled without separation into light green sand. Only the silhouette fortresses of grainy, green-black boxes, stacked like children’s building blocks, divided the twinkling expanse from the earth beneath our feet.
West of our objective, beyond the slumbering box city and across the great smelly river, silence disappeared. Six towed giants stomped the earth—fire mission: immediate suppression! Fire for effect!
SGT Brian Colby’s eyes glowed.
“Davis,” he yelled, “that’s one-five-five!”
For ten years previous, Brian served as a “gun bunny,” a dirt-shoveling, bomb-loading string puller and he knew all about the sound and operation of US Army artillery. But in Korea the year before we deployed to Iraq, Brian switched sides. He volunteered to become a fister (Forward Observer)—the eyes of the artillery. He learned fire support: how to plot grid coordinates on a map, the formulated procedure to call for fire and how to work as an asset to the infantry. When he transferred to 1/320th Field Artillery Regiment at Fort Campbell, home of the Army’s prestigious 101st Airborne, he became my Forward Observer and protective older brother.
When Brian met my wife, the first thing he said was, “Don’t worry, I’ll bring Jason back home.” In the farm fields then, he yelled at me for walking beside him and not behind him. Minutes before crossing the border into Iraq, I snapped our only long-whip radio antennae while ducking under the flap in a tent. His eyes glared at me like a wild man, but the scowling aggression always turned to patient understanding.
Brian didn’t bring me home, but he got me through the invasion. Before deploying, he played the role of Sergeant. By the time we arrived in Kuwait, he realized that that role wasn’t necessary. I didn’t act like a private and I knew my job, so it didn’t take long for him to trust me. He didn’t let anyone mess with me—no one grabbed me for shitty details or guard watch. And if the infantry did something Brian felt was stupid, he didn’t make me do it either.
When we were alone, Brian talked to me like a brother, not down at me like a leader. We spoke about life and love and of our families and childhood. I learned that beneath the Sergeant exterior, a gentle boy who had grown up in the military yearned for stability. He wanted to be home with his family and often stared at a picture of his two girls before sleeping at night.
For seven weeks in early 2003, we were inseparable. We ate cold MRE’s (Meal, Ready to Eat) together, slept together and pissed in the same ancient rivers. In Najaf and Karbala, we explored every deserted and looted schoolhouse, searching for war treasures to mail home. As I marveled at grade school artwork taped to cement walls, Brian entered every empty classroom to smash all of the framed Saddam Hussein photos hanging from the tops of chalkboards. Later, he nicknamed me “Princess” because I often plucked ingrown hairs from my neck with Revlon tweezers and picked dirt from my fingernails with the tip of a pocketknife. Most of the time, though, Brian smiled as if remembering the times he too had been a dumb private.
But in the fields that night, after the 155’s made a crater of men and equipment, and before we reached the objective, a single round of illumination arced into the sky. I walked alone in seeing naturally the milky moonlit glow, and I was the one with depth perception—a limitation of the PVS-14 night vision goggles the infantry wore.
“Illumination!” I yelled and hit the floor.
Brian threw off his goggles and grabbed the Lieutenant.
“Get them the fuck down!” he screamed.
It burned near enough that we could hear two more rounds fizz as they shot up, then popping ninety seconds later. For ten minutes, we lay flat on the ground, hoping to not be backlit in case it was hostile.
Like so many times before, the sky burned with light. Instead of artillery illumination, tee-tottering left and right like a light bulb dangling on a string, the ball flamed into millions of expanding neon embers.
Children in strollers smiled and laughed and cried. Their hands, clutching brightly lit straws and fistfuls of popcorn, waved at wispy clouds of bubbles falling like snow from the sky beyond the castle. Lovers, bundled in scarves and black leather jackets, and shoppers, eyeing branded candies and festive knick-knacks, mingled at the registers with plastic bags and seasonal smiles. In the tunnel beneath the Disneyland Railroad on Main Street, where vintage posters of Autopia and the Submarine Voyage hang as dreamy remnants of Yesterland, families trickled toward the turnstiles.
My knees buckled. Dizzy from noise and confusion, I searched for the familiar—a point of reference or something to fix on, an image that could show that everything was all right. With the skyline obscured by trees and the decorative awnings of Mainstreet USA, my eyes did not see the flickering yellow, orange and red. The blasts echoing off the Penny Arcade and the Magic Shop were far from the fortified compounds in the Iraq desert, but that’s where the noise transported me.
The incoming mortars whistled before impact. An unruffled silence gave way to thunderous concussion and the building shook as if rattled by an earthquake. Windows shattered as soldiers ran through the hallways, toppling tables and chairs. Then the blasts tripled, and seconds later, tripled again. Across the street, from behind the wall of the Pepsi bottling factory, a man fled while onlookers grouped to stare and point and clap. Through a pillow of white smoke over the western wall, another man unleashed a tidal wave of brass from a belt-fed Kalashnikov.
Soldiers from Charley Company, each wearing more than sixty pounds of body armor, raced to fortify positions along the front gate and the northern walls overlooking the Tigris River. Burning dust and smoke billowed into the hotel’s main lobby. The plastic chandelier above the spiral staircase swayed like a wind charm. RPG’s smacked the cinderblock face of the hotel and off-target mortars landed in farm fields near the Tigris River. Two minutes of continuous fire seemed like twenty; but just as it started, it ended. None of the attackers had been caught and disgruntled infantrymen returned from their positions. Amidst the chatter of squawking radios and heavy boots, someone screamed—“MEDIC!”
Robyn is my medic now, so I grabbed her hand. In her other hand, she held a credit card to pay for branded candies and festive knick-knacks for our four year-old son. The blasts continued, sporadic and unseen from the Main Street concession, and pelted my ears like audible shrapnel.
Months had passed since my last episode and Robyn was busy with candy and credit cards. When I clasped my arms around her legs, she looked down into my eyes. Nine years previous, my blue eyes and curly brown hair had first attracted her attention. Working together, we sold gumbo and creamy clam chowder from behind a small window at the Royal Street Veranda in Disneyland’s New Orleans Square. Several nights a week for nearly two magical years, we watched Fantasmic and the fireworks, looking over the heads of the crowds in front of our window. Robyn knew that my eyes sparkled when I truly smiled. In those special moments, she could glimpse in them the charm and boyish wonder she fell in love with. Now, she saw fear and suffering.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is an anxiety disorder caused after experiencing a traumatic event. The more fearful the experience, the more one will be affected with flashbacks, night tremors, and dissociative feelings. Many of the soldiers in my unit displayed symptoms of PTSD after returning from Iraq, but in 2004, the military didn’t know what to do about it. For several years after the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, PTSD went unacknowledged. Instead of recognizing it as a legitimate disease, toughened commanders and senior sergeant’s felt their soldiers were malingering. Army physicians treated soldiers with little sympathy, too, prescribing sleep aids and mood altering drugs to fix the weak and depressed. Even some doctor’s working for the Veteran’s Administration had an unofficial policy to deny the validity of the disease. Tens of thousands of soldiers who left military service after coming home did not receive adequate care or attention and many claims for disability compensation were outright denied.
That’s how Brian left the Army in early 2005. Despite being treated for severe depression and PTSD by Army doctors, he did not receive disability compensation by the Army or VA. And like others, Brian used alcohol and violent video games to escape the depression and anger of his failed family life—self-treatments which worsened his symptoms.
I first knew there was a problem in late April 2003. We’d been in Iraq—through Kufa, Najaf, Karbala and Baghdad in five weeks—and I was receiving letters and packages from home almost everyday. At mail call, Brian watched in silence. Several months had passed before he received his first letter. “It’s just a delay in the post system,” I said, but even Robyn soon mused in her letters to me that she hadn’t seen Brian’s wife or daughters at any of the monthly Family Readiness Group meetings.
Before coming home, the FRG, made up of wives and family members of the men I served with, discussed the mental and physical issues returning husbands might have. In Iraq, Chaplain prepared a slide show explaining how best to reintegrate in the home. But most of my brothers and friends had forgotten how to share control of decisions with their spouses. Some could not switch from combat to off-duty dad, while others returned home to divorce papers and confrontations of infidelity, or worse, empty homes. When Brian left Iraq in late 2003 and landed at Campbell Army Airfield, his wife and children stayed home. Instead of a homecoming, he hitched a ride home with a friend. Three months later, Brian’s marriage ended.
I returned to Fort Campbell on February 19, 2004, where, after a short ceremony in the hangar, I rode to my unit’s home in a luxury bus. I cleaned my weapon, locked it in the arms room, grabbed my bags, and left for home. For five straight days, I made love to my wife, turned off the alarm clock and cell phone, ate fast food and candy, and drank Bacardi rum—all the things I had missed while deployed. But it wasn’t long before the homecoming’s happiness faded.
I woke up many nights panicked and afraid of losing my M4. I carried it in my hands for an entire year. I slept with it, ate next to it and depended on it. In an urban combat zone in Iraq, every sound from a dark alley would send my arms and eyes to the iron sight above the barrel, scanning from corner to ledge to curb, trying to silence the threat. That nervous twitch followed me home. When I woke up at night, the attachment remained. Instead of in my arms, or under my bed, my weapon stood in an arms room with other men’s weapons, locked in columns, dress-right-dress behind steel doors and brick walls.
My days were no less stressful. I couldn’t deal with the ambient noises of trash trucks and normal Army life. At work, where soldiers from different units practiced for “funeral detail”—the shit rotation of performing the military tribute for the family of a soldier who had passed, the popcorn ricochets of blanks sent me diving for cover within the courtyard of two opposing barracks buildings. I would laugh, checking first to see that others had reacted as I had and making sure that none had reacted worse or not at all. The trash trucks, with their hydraulic tusks, picked up metal dumpsters and slammed them onto the asphalt. But in my head, the thrashing was like an IED (Improvised Exploding Device) exploding along the side of some faraway desert highway.
For the nightmares and sleepless nights, I drank. In the artillery, everyday work—cleaning weapons, inventorying equipment, fixing the HUMVEE—existed as a collection of repetitive scenes and going through the motions—just shamming and waiting for the end of the day. I learned that if I drank fast enough, I could pass out by ten. Some guys snuck a shot of Beam before breakfast and lunch, and then doubled with sleep pills at night. I went through half a liter of rum every night and found that if I could get to sleep, I could stay asleep. But as with any other drug, I had to increase consumption to maintain the effect. That’s when the nightmares started; that’s when the boy came.
He watched me watch him. His eyes were black like the barrel of the AK47 in his right hand. He was lifeless and still like a four-foot-tall postcard, and looking into the reflection of myself in his eyes, I saw panic erupt from the petrified hollow of my mouth.
The cold sweat wasn’t cold when writhing convulsions shook me from sleep. Or when my contracted lungs blocked repeated attempts to scream. In the despairing moments before waking, light and darkness ceased to exist and exhaustion wiped away all but a single image of the night’s terrible tremor.
I didn’t fear the two-dimensional boy wearing a dirty, white man-dress and carrying a cardboard machine-gun; rather, I was terrified that his world had followed me home.
Months had passed since I was the overgrown boy in dirty combat boots stomping across the threshold of another man’s home. Now the favor of intrusion had been returned. But the postcard apparition in the corner of my kitchen did not move and neither did the gruesome and contorted face of my dream self.
When I awoke, rigid and ashamed in my wife’s loving embrace, I felt like I had been rescued but not saved from the boy’s taunting, inevitable return. In watching him, I remembered every moment I, like the boy, entered uninvited into the lives of the occupied. As I watched myself, frightened and mute and held captive to the hell of a chemically induced sleep, the cold sweat disappeared and the images my mind created faded until finally, the boy was gone.
Stupid Kory didn’t see combat, but when he went to the VA for PTSD, he got a 70% disability rating. Hoagie went AWOL (Absent Without Leave) and he got 70%. Newby, Chris, Vondran—same thing. Dave got 80%, but he’s also the only one who got blown up. My decision to seek treatment for PTSD was not initially motivated by disability compensation, but I found it hard to ignore when everyone around me landed lifetime stipends.
“Dude, it’s easy,” said Stupid Kory. “I didn’t hold back. I just cried my fucking balls off!”
But that game didn’t come easy for me. I wasn’t going to lie or embellish my story, and it took time and an increasing log of flashbacks for me to realize that I really did have a problem. I over-thought the process and couldn’t understand how guys with similar backgrounds who experienced the same events could react so differently. And how could I explain to my buddies and friends and family that I, in twenty-four months of war—through the buildup, ground invasion, fierce combat in the streets of Najaf, Karbala, Baghdad and Mosul, and the violent backlash of a pissed-off post-war insurgency—miraculously, never once fired my weapon? What claim did I have compared to those who hadn’t seen half of what I’d seen, but who had popped off a few rounds when the opportunity presented itself?
“Fucking Davis,” I thought those guys would say, “what’s he whining about now? That soft-skilled pussy didn’t do shit.”
I was reluctant to deal with the VA because I didn’t want to appear weak. The Army taught me to “suck it up and drive on,” and for years, I did. I tried to move on with my life, to forget the pain and depression and the anger and frustration. I hated the person the Army made of me. I refused to seek medical help for the symptoms I carried and instead, turned to alcohol to help me forget. But after the fireworks, I couldn’t pretend anymore.
“No one is unaffected or unchanged,” Robyn said. “I don’t know what you saw or what you did, but it’s obvious that whatever it was still bothers you. You don’t need to compare yourself to others.”
In November 2004, Brian finalized the divorce with the mother of his two children. Two days later, he remarried. Two months after that, he medically retired from the Army and moved with his new wife, Reggi, and her children to Jerome, Idaho.
In Idaho, a fresh start for the newlyweds began well. Civilian doctors prescribed Brian Xanax, Prozac, Wellbutrin, Lexapro, and several other sleep and anger medications and they seemed to work. Brian and Reggi bought a house and Brian enjoyed traveling the southwest with his new job, installing paper towel, toilet paper and soap dispensers in airports and office buildings. At home every third week, Brian appeared happy and loving, and put behind him the depression and anger and alcohol for which he’d sought counseling while in the Army.
But on the road two weeks at a time, a different man emerged. After more than a decade in the Army where he had a strict routine and daily tasks to accomplish, he seemed unfit for the looser structure of civilian life and was more inclined to play than work. On the road, his wandering eye and reckless alcoholism, seen only by coworkers, threatened to destroy the new life he had built.
On the beach one night in Galveston, a girl offered him ecstasy and he took it. He never sought out drugs, but he also never turned them down. He was drunk and alone and tripping when a group near the water set off fireworks. He looked hollow while standing alone in the sand with his eyes on the sky. By then, whether from the X or the sound of the pops and the crackles taking him back to Iraq, he was gone. He hated his medicine and the way it made him feel. He didn’t see the point in living a lie, an unhappy, fake life where he pretended to be happy. What was the point?
Despite the rising hopelessness, Brian convinced friends and family that he’d be fine. But his actions proved otherwise. He devoted less time to his daughters and family and became angry and violent when he drank.
In 2009, when the economy tanked, Brian lost his job and he fell into a deep depression. His marriage crumbled and in January 2010, he left Idaho the same way he left the Army in 2005. Only, this time, Brian left “in order to get his head on straight,” and he felt he could do that living with his mom and step dad in Arkansas. With his parents’ support, he felt he could rise above the depression.
In March 2010, I finally agreed to seek help.
With Robyn’s hand in mine, I walked into the Long Beach VA Hospital to file a PTSD claim. Outside the main entrance, homeless veterans in BDU (Battle Dress Uniform; green camouflage) pants huddled on benches, smoking cigarettes and talking to themselves. To avoid eye contact, I stared at the ground, ashamed of my outward youth and health. Inside, every awake face in the crowded lobby stared at TV’s hanging on the wall. I felt even more of a fraud that my Iraq nightmares paled in comparison to those of the homeless vets racked-out on chairs inside the lobby.
Upstairs in the mental health office, a dozen more Vietnam vets hacked and coughed between passed-out snores leaning in chairs against the wall. There were a few young guys, like me, probably Marine’s, who’d seen some real shit. One guy sat rocking in a chair with his head between his knees and a clipboard with a stack of ruffled papers next to him. A couple of large ladies in light blue uniforms carted him away. Another young guy walked to the bathroom with a small cup in his hand. The nurse stuck her foot in the door and I could tell he didn’t seem optimistic about his chances.
I filled out the stack of papers attached to the clipboard. It asked for specific memories where I felt I would die, and for names of people to contact to verify my claims. When I finished the stack, I ate a sandwich lunch and waited.
A small, thin woman in light blue called my name. She brought me through a series of lefts and rights and back-arounds until we came to an open examination office. She sat at a computer and read the stack of papers attached to the clipboard. As she pecked at the keyboard, I played the role of dumb private—thoughtful, timid and polite, though that wasn’t far-fetched from my own mood. For forty-five minutes, she went through a list of questions to determine the immediacy of help that I needed. I told her about my nightmares and some of the graphic events I had witnessed in Iraq, and how I had been resolving those issues at home. She seemed concerned and said that I displayed symptoms of PTSD. Then she scheduled for me an appointment to meet with “a doctor closer to home” in Santa Ana.
I met with Dr. Stewart in late July. She smiled and led me to her office, and I took a seat across from her. For the next twenty-five minutes, she typed into a computer and didn’t look at me. She seemed indifferent and I felt like another name in her long list of patients as she played twenty questions.
“Do you smoke? Drink? Do drugs? Are you on any medications?
Has your appetite changed?
How do you feel right now?
How are you sleeping?
What is today’s date? If you had to guess the date… pick a day…
Who is the President of the United States?
Have you committed any recent crime sprees?”
After the last question, she turned away from the computer and said that I displayed symptoms of PTSD. She asked me if I wanted to join a substance abuse class, and after we talked about my family and school obligations, she wrote me a prescription for Trazadone, an antidepressant used for depression and insomnia.
I returned for a follow-up appointment in late August. Dr. Stewart led me to the same room and she sat at the same computer without looking at me. Ten minutes later, after a blitzkrieg session of the same questions, she asked me about the Trazadone. I lied and said it didn’t work the few times I took it. Then she wrote me a prescription for Tamazepam, a hypnotic used by Air Force pilots to combat insomnia.
I didn’t want drugs and I wondered whether I should forget the whole process. I wanted to talk to someone and I wanted answers to questions I didn’t have courage to ask. Where were the caring doctors and couches and explanations for attempts to get to the bottom of my problem? I couldn’t believe the VA wanted to pump me full of drugs, as if loading up on a combination of pills, I could numb my fear and pain into smooooth jazz—“Yeaah, baby.”
“Fuck that,” I thought. “I’d rather drink…”
On September 5, 2010, inside the gated community of Hot Springs Village, Arkansas, adjacent to Hot Springs National Park, Brian sat alone on his mother’s balcony at 3 Medina Way. His family left for Texas to attend his grandfather’s memorial. Brian didn’t take the death well and decided to stay home to finish homework for his Welding Technology class at National Park Community College. As the family walked out of the door, Brian bear-hugged his mom tighter and longer than he had in over twenty years. For one last time, he was her little boy—the blue-eyed, blond-haired boy smiling in the albums and frames on the wall.
For nine months, Brian hid his alcoholism from his parents. But on this day, he splurged one last time. When he finished making all of his calls and replying to all of his text messages, he grabbed his grandfather’s Ruger 9mm pistol, feeling the weight of it in his hand and remembering all the times he and his grandfather had gone shooting. Brian studied the cool touch of the barrel and examined the loaded chamber. The gun may have rested on the ground or in his lap while he used the phone, but finally, it rested in his lifeless hand.
The sound careened off the trunks and branches of deciduous oak, hickory, and pine trees that filled the ridges beyond his balcony, but no one was around to hear. Later that afternoon, when Brian failed to answer his phone, his parents called neighbors. They found him on the balcony, a week before his 37th birthday, in a pool of his own cold blood.
In the Iraq holy south, we fought on rooftops and in muddy marshes and farm fields. In the capital, we fought inside dark hallways where shadows glided under locked doors and broken neighborhood streetlamps. In the ancient north, we fought in the intersections of crowded markets and raced our Humvees through cemeteries to escape the ambush of roadside bombs. Some of us fought for peace or revenge or for college money, and others fought for their brothers and sisters and families back home. But mostly, we fought because we were told to, and when we were told to stop fighting—that it was time to go home—the battle raged on in our heads.
For Brian, only death could bring the end of war. The small list of friends and family he called on that morning did not know that it was the last time they would ever hear his voice.
I found out later that evening from a friend’s Facebook status:
“Brian Colby passed away today. It is an unbeleivable loss to me, my family, his family, his freinds and the world. Please contact me and i will be trying to get details on the services.”
Rain slammed into Little Rock the same way news of Brian’s suicide hit me. I flew alone with my thoughts, an angry asshole seatmate to businessmen looking for their next southern sell. The puddle-jump flight and dingy airport reminded me of Lawton, Oklahoma, when I went to Fort Sill in 2002 for artillery Advanced Individual Training (AIT). The small empty terminal reeked of mold and smoke and I wanted a drink.
Two hours southwest of Little Rock, I stopped at a liquor store to pick up some rum, hoping Baz and Dex would soon call or text to let me know they were on their way.
Three miles outside of town, my phone rang. A few minutes later, it rang again, first, Brian’s stepfather Fletcher, then his birth father, Frank.
I checked into the hotel across from Hot Springs Village, America’s largest gated community. I set the rum in the mini-fridge, and then called Brian’s folks for directions.
When I rang the doorbell, Brian’s mom, Linda, answered the door.
“Is this Princess?”
She hugged me and held onto me and I grieved for her loss, for my loss.
As I walked into the house, I met the family and the cousins and the childhood friends. We sat at tables and couches, eating food prepared by the empathetic community, talking about our memories of Brian. I learned that the “Princess” stories were family favorites and that a picture of Brian and I in Kuwait was the background image on his laptop.
I hadn’t talked to Brian in months. He had traveled from Idaho to Arkansas to Texas to Arkansas many times since leaving Idaho in January, staying with friends for weeks at a time. Most of my conversations with him consisted of stray Facebook messages and comments, and in those, I became for him another friend to appease. He always said he was “doing good.” Then he was gone and I wasn’t one of the phone calls and texts he made on his last morning.
I wondered if it was because I had a happy marriage, or that I succeeded in school. I knew what I wanted to do with my life and Brian didn’t. Had he avoided me? Did my aspirations and choices bring him down, or did he move on?
After the suicide, Brian’s family found his pill bottles full—he hadn’t taken his medication in over 45 days. In the months and days before, he deflected questions and told friends and family what they wanted to hear. He sought temporary highs and short-term pleasures to distract from the pain and confusion he didn’t want to feel.
Dex couldn’t make it to the memorial, but after dinner with Brian’s family, I drove back to the hotel with Baz. He was one of the first Sergeants I met as a new private in the Army. SGT Rolando Bazaldua never forgot what it was like to be a private, and I admired that. I hadn’t seen Baz since summer 2005 when he left Fort Campbell for Drill Sergeant school. Together, we finished the one-liter bottle of rum and a half-dozen Pepsi’s scrounged from hotel vending machines.
I couldn’t get past the feeling that this would happen again—that from this point forward, life would exist as an endless succession of bad-trip Facebook messages. One of Brian’s last status updates indicated his new favorite song—“Suicide is Painless,” by Marilyn Manson, a cover of the M.A.S.H. theme song. I didn’t know it then, but Brian and his sister, Lane, watched M.A.S.H. for most of their childhood.
We arrived at the funeral home a few hours later, Baz in his Army Class-A uniform, and I in wrinkled business casual from flying light. The packed house watched as we took seats in the front pews next to Shawn and Davina Bass. I served with Shawn in Iraq—he was an infantry squad leader for 3rd Platoon and a close after-Army friend of Brian’s.
I spoke first after the chaplain’s introduction. I intended to prepare a speech, but it never came. After a sleepless night of drinking and catching up with Baz, I stepped to the podium and spoke from my heart. In the crowd, I picked out Brian’s youngest daughter Blake, and told her about how Brian kept a photo of her and Jasmine, her older sister, in a plastic zip lock baggie in his helmet. In those moments then, under the desert sky, tears fell from Brian’s closed eyes. I told the crowd how much Brian meant to me as a young soldier and brother, then stepped away staring at the ground.
Baz spoke next, remembering humorous anecdotes of Brian’s idiosyncrasies and the crowd smiled. Then the Old Guard began the military salute. I closed my eyes in anticipation, but nothing could prepare me for the piercing wave of each round ringing through the silent room. My jaw shook and tears fell from my eyes. I stood at attention and Baz rendered the final salute as Linda received the folded flag “on behalf of a grateful nation.”