It’s about the person next to you

May 23, 2010 — 14 Comments

I confess that I am  a war movie junkie.  I understand why many of you are not.

It is brutal.  It frightening.  It complex. It’s definitely not a date movie.  It usually is not going to make you laugh.

When I was 8, all I wanted to be was a soldier.  Until I watched Oliver Stone’s Platoon.  God bless my parents in a way for letting me watch that movie. As a parent now, I’m not sure if I’d let my children watch it but if they expressed interest in wanting to know about what real combat is like, at the right time I’d show them movies like The Thin Red Line, Saving Private Ryan, Band of Brothers, Hamburger Hill, The Hurt Locker, Gettysburg, Glory, Black Hawk Down, Flags of Our Fathers, Letters from Iwo Jima, Memphis Belle, Gallipoli , Enemy at the Gates, yes even Braveheart and The Lord of the Rings Trilogy.  I acknowledge that some of these movies could be argued as propaganda or that they over-sensationalize war but they do teach us something to the core about our own lives.  And if you think your life isn’t interesting, open your eyes.

We are at war. We always are. We always will be.

In life, if we pay close enough attention to the details, it isn’t that much different.  There may not be actual bullets flying over your head but the metaphoric ones can still cripple or kill us from living life the way it’s mean to be lived.

We must stand and fight together.

The Thin Red Line, painted in 1881 by Robert Gibb. Painting showing the 93rd Sutherland Highlanders in battle with Russian cavalry at the Battle of Balaklava 1854.

Here is what I’ve learned in my years of closely observing what most war movies best communicate.  I recently read an article in PASTE Magazine  reviewing Sebastian Junger’s latest, WAR that got me pretty fired up.  I have not read the book yet but the journalist in his review challenged a core piece in the book; glorifying brotherhood in the midst of battle.  What if brotherhood in battle is reality?  Most people I know in the military who have seen combat do not talk about it much.  I can only understand why.  But from what I’ve read about war and the movies I’ve seen, there is a theme that exists in all.  I’ll explain further.

In the movie Black Hawk Down, Eric Bana’s character “Hoot” shared his perspective on why he does what he does: “When I go home people’ll ask me, ‘Hey Hoot, why do you do it man? What, you some kinda war junkie?’ You know what I’ll say? I won’t say a god**** word. Why? They won’t understand. They won’t understand why we do it. They won’t understand that it’s about the men next to you, and that’s it. That’s all it is.” -Hoot, played by Eric Bana.  What a simple way to put it.  I highly recommend this movie and how it represents brotherhood as well as the depiction of modern combat.  The book was incredibly detailed and written by the talented Mark Bowden, from Webster Groves, MO where I spent my high school years.

If you also saw the recent HBO Miniseries “The Pacific” produced by Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg, you witnessed one of the most honest and horrific portrayals of the war in the Pacific in World War II through the eyes of 3 Marines.

Eat your heart out, John Wayne, you won’t see many other movies portray war reality so well. The series predecessor, Band of Brothers, emphasized the role of brotherhood so well in combat but this one was different.  There is a critical episode when a core character, Leckie, was taken away from battle to “rest.”  In reality, he was placed with other soldiers dealing with what we now know as “post-traumatic stress.”   During WWII, my maternal  grandfather “Papa Jack” Martin had a difficult assignment at Fort Lee re-training these types of soldiers.  I can only imagine what the men he encountered went through.  Leckie and the other Marines in the film quickly recognized that the war’s idealism of fighting off imperial Japan was forgotten and it became more about fighting to protect the man next to him.

Memorial Day approaches. We are losing WWII, Korean, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Gulf War & Iraq War veterans everyday so if you see one, honor them well.  Listen to them.  Ask them if they want to share their story.  Try to understand what they have experienced.  You will appreciate this wonderful nation more.  If they don’t want to talk about it, honor that and ask what you can do for them.  My father spends a lot of his time volunteering with the Veterans of the Battle of the Bulge in St. Louis, Missouri.  His father (my grandfather) received a purple heart while fighting in Battle of the Bulge in December, 1944.  My dad sees this as his part of honoring “Grandpa Branch” and those many others who fought for us.   My father shared a story with me today from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch about some WWII veterans in their 90’s recently honored in St. Louis.  There are so many still serving today.  My cousin Shane and his wife Tiffany have together served 4 tours in Afghanistan and Iraq.  They have given much of their 20’s and 30’s to the military.  There are so many more like them still protecting us. Honor those who went before us this Memorial Day.

Thoughout life I’ve had several people whom I’ve felt are “the person next to me.”  Whether it was my best friends in high school and college when I was in Young Life or today’s amazing men’s small group I’m in, I recognize that we are all never alone if we fight together.

Brooke and I are celebrating our 6th anniversary on this weekend.  She is that person next to me when there is calm but also when the bullets start flying. We’ve been reading John and Stasi Eldredge’s Love and War this month. It has helped confirm that especially in marriage, we must rely on each other in this complicated life.

When the bullets of life start flying, who will be by your side? Who is the person next to you?

I’d love to hear your thoughts. If you would also like to share a story about a loved one currently serving in the military or is a veteran, please do so in the comments.

14 responses to It’s about the person next to you

    Barrett Schroeder May 23, 2010 at 10:10 pm

    Your dad and I have covered each other’s back for the length of our marriage. May it be so for you. Do I regret letting you watch the Oliver Stone movie at such a young age? Yeah…but seeing it did the trick for you. I think that I will be enjoying your blog. It may allow me to know my grown-up son better. We’re proud of you, kiddo. Your loving mom


      Well, I think you did the right thing. You fed my love for being an “army man” as I called it. I just understood “reality” hopefully earlier than possible. Perhaps that was Oliver Stone’s plan.


    Adam Hill just submitted this:
    “There is some Shelby Foote quote about getting the nerve to charge across the field, maybe it was Gettysburg. the deal wasn’t courage it was that the guy beside you was going and the other guy beside you was going, so you just all went together.”


    Before my first real battle on the front lines for te Kingdom of God, I had a friend ask to see me before I flew a few thousand miles away. I had no idea what was coming. I had no idea if I would have enough to serve God well and serve people under the circumstances. Little experience and many weaknesses served as my artillery to carry the Gospel. But that man gave me a letter. He said I was enough. That God could use me and would do great things through and despite me. He could see the battle I was heading toward and he affirmed my calling and pumped strength into my veins. 5 years later I won’t forget the man who pursued me and the passion God was bringing out of me. I won’t forget his allegiance to being by my side. That man is Dave Schroeder.


      Zac, you are a real man of genius. I believe in what God is doing through you, always. I need to have you guest post this summer when you are in Belize. Just got your latest support letter, it looks awesome! Dave


    Nicely done, Dave! Love the application to life! Also dig the blog as this is my first visit! Keep it up!


    David- What a great tribute to all those that have served our country. Heading into Memorial Day it sometimes seems that people view it as a weekend to head to the lake or for BBQs instead of thinking about why we have that special day. Having a brother and sister-in-law currently serving in the military right now this really hits home. Watching these movies you get a small glimpse of what our soldiers go through, but you can never imagine the full reality of it. Everyday there are reminders of the dangers of the job and the price these soldiers pay. Thanks for writing this, I look forward to reading more of your blogs, you are doing a great job.


      Ryan, we come from such a proud family. The Kelleys, Schroeders, Mobergs, etc. have a deep tradition of service, whether it is to our families, the military, our neighborhood, etc. It’s so important that you, me, Shane, Kristen, and Sarah continue and share the legacy.
      I am so proud of Torie by the way…I have shared her birthday party story(ies) with Max Lucado and how she has given gifts away to the military and other groups. What an example of how you and Mandy have raised her! Raising 2 daughters is so humbling now…Brooke and I have so much we need to do to keep them grounded. Miss you dear cousin! I’m proud of you too and how in the midst of such uncertainty in your late teens, you have emerged with am amazing family, a fantastic job, a masters, being a soccer coach, etc. God has shown his glory through you.


    I’m so glad you started a blog Dave. I’m trying to get my 88-year old father-in-law to sit down with me and talk about his experiences in World War II. He thinks it sounds like an obituary. I’ll talk him into it 🙂 Will be watching Pacific this summer (saved in DVR).

    Saving Private Ryan is simply a MUST WATCH for all kids (at a certain age).

    Great thoughts here Dave.


      Curt, you said it. It’s just about listening to veterans if they want to talk. Some never will want to. And that is okay. But, you are honoring them by being there.

      Keep rockin’ the free world.


    Dave –
    Sadly I have never been much a war movie buff, but “The Hurt Locker” really made me think about your points here exactly. Those guys were all so different yet they fought for and with each other. I thought it was interesting that no matter how much the disagreed, they followed the chain of command within the three of them as well. We’ve lost that in this country too. We are going to do what we think even if it is outside of the chain of command. Imagine if we still followed the honor and the code.

    Great post and great blog. You’re gonna rock the internet with what you place on a blank page my friend!


    Love your insight, your curiousity, your humility and your humor! Reading your blog makes me long for my own…I just hope you use this to push yourself to write that book someday sooner, rather then later!


      How about I help you set up a blog when I’m in town. It’s really easy. It’s a fun place to vomit your thoughts (like that visual, huh?). I hope it is helpful to people and not about me first and foremost. But, I just start with my perspective and work my way from there. I also said I have to do this once a week or the discipline will way away.

      Thanks for the kind comments and can’t wait to see you next week.

      Just remember Herm’s words “Cheech, I just never had the desire….” You all make me smile

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