After fours years of memorizing lines, countless costume changes, and friendships formed, Pat took to the stage of Pamlico HS for the last time. He often took on roles that would envoke barreling laughter and cheers from the audience. As we have all come to experience, laughter brings great cures for what ails us. “Good times” he recalls in playing a precarious kid named Thor in the play The Nerd written by playwright Larry
Shue. Certainly, what’s not to love playing a terror of a kid stomping about a bowl full of potato salad atop the dinner table? Good times, indeed.
As the curtain drew closed on his high school acting days, another one opened in the form of a full acting scholarship to UNC. He had raw talent and others took notice. This was the Golden ticket for a kid who grew up in a modest rural community along the coast of Carolina.
Pat’s future path of sell out crowds and standing under the lights of stardom quickly dissipated as his father, a Vietnam Army veteran began to plant the seeds of service. Visions of a new kind of costume filled his green eyes- that of United States Marine. “I liked the uniform” he proclaimed. Albeit the true reason for signing his name on the line wouldn’t be revealed for years to come.
At seventeen as with
most– all young recruits hoping to earn their Eagle, Globe and Anchor, they stand upon the yellow footprints with great certainty that life is about to change hoping they don’t crap their pants before the day is done.
At the age of twenty-four, Pat was deployed to Iraq and found he now stood on a different kind of stage in the war torn cities of Fallujah and Ramadi. A far cry and worlds away from the quaint coastal town where the smell of bonfires and fishin’ filled his nights and days. There are no words of comfort nor empathy that can be expressed to one who is exposed to such carnage, hatred and injustice unless you are among the quietly brave souls who pledge their lives for their brothers to their left and to their right and for the country they have vowed to defend.
Yet in this place far removed from all Pat had ever known, his sense of purpose and belonging was revealed. As is the case with all men, they are born to provide, protect and die if they must for their family. It is how all societies judge and determine their worth. It is the scale by which they measure themselves as worthy Men- their legacy written.
There is no distinction as a sheepdog between those whose blood runs through their veins and that of Brother who runs the miles and stands shoulder to shoulder with them in the fight. Sgt. McQueary affectionately known as Mac Dougle made the nights in the sandbox bearable. Many twisted jokes and shuffling of the cards were shared. On the day Mac was killed by an IED, the stage lights of which Pat stood under, began to dim.
Once stateside, Pat became a proud father to a healthy boy in a rocky marriage- survivor’s guilt still ever present by his side. He pressed on and immersed himself into his new role as a Recruiter. It was a challenging role but one he had committed to play. On top of his game professionally, his personal life began to crumble. He and his wife made the decision to legally separate and she moved back north with their son. The loneliness- filled with booze and other transgressions. The pinnacle of despair came in 2011 when his Dad in stoic fashion passed away after a lengthy illness.
Honor, Courage and Commitment–the core values by which all Marines are defined and most importantly it was the lens in which Pat’s father saw him. He died with his soul at ease knowing that his son had become a better man than he.
Never look down on someone unless you’re helping them up.
Pat’s career with the Marines came to an “other than honorable” end amongst allegations of adultery; demoted to Lance Corporal and discharged before his 30th birthday. The pivotal moment came knocking when it was time to turn in his uniform.
“It was the hardest day of my life and is my burden to bear.”
Pat now has a second young son with his girlfriend. The laughter he once shared on stage is all but gone. His days are filled with social isolation, taking odd jobs to make ends meet and pay child support for his first born son he rarely sees. Therapy up to this point has not been effective. While well intentioned, the counselors can’t relate. He is “going through the motions” as he proclaims while heading off to school.
On rare occasions, he will meet up with an Army buddy of his which offers a brief respite from the challenges he faces on a daily basis. His girlfriend bears much of the financial burden of the daily living expenses as he often shells out what money he has for a cupboard full of anti- anxiety and depression medications. With the exception of the local university where he attends classes, he feels there is little support for veterans transitioning back into civilian life.
He dreams and strives to provide a good life for his family, of belonging and serving a purpose higher than himself. His scars run deep but carries on.
There is a disconnect among those in the community of which these young veterans live and work. Their service to our communities and country must continue. They possess unique skills as Leaders that must be utilized in keeping this nation and our neighborhoods strong. They must hear from all of us that they are valued in spite of their flaws.
We must educate our children of their sacrifices to this country. We must call upon our business leaders to offer jobs and opportunities to become entrepreneurs. We must call out corrupt organizations and politicians who wish to use veterans for their own personal gains.
When asked about his relationship with his young son Gavin, his face lit up for the first time in our conversation. “I hope that one day, my children will read this and be proud of me.”
And when the curtain closes at the end of his days, his soul will be at ease, knowing his boys have become better men than he.