For the third year in a row, my husband and I participated in Fallen Heroes of Georgia's annual 1K, 5K and 10K at Lake Lanier outside Atlanta. The event honored the 209 Georgia soldiers who have given their lives since 2001. The organization uses the race as a fundraiser to honor these soldiers and their families. Each year, what continues to be so powerful for me is the way each soldier is remembered. Along the race route a sign with a soldier's name, rank, age, hometown and the date he or she was killed in action. Many of these soldiers' family members attend and stand by their family member's sign.
Some friends rode with us this year. On our way out after the race, one of them remarked about how young the majority of the soldiers are who have been killed. Sign after sign reported a soldier's age as 19, 20, 22 years old.
I was reminded of the book I'm rereading right now that my class will begin discussing this week, All Quiet on the Western Front, a novel about a group of German soldiers in the trenches during World War I. The narrator Paul keeps commenting on their youth, and feels old compared to the new recruits that keep joining them, even though he is only 20.
"Reinforcements have arrived. The vacancies have been filled and the sacks of straw in the huts are already booked. Some of them are old hands, but there are twenty-five men of a later draft from the base. They are about two years younger than us. Kropp nudges me: 'Seen the infants?'"
I nod. We stick out our chests, shave in the open, shove our hands in our pockets, inspect the recruits and feel ourselves stone-age veterans" (Chapter 3).