Last nights second show was the closest thing I’ve had to that feeling you get as a kid on Christmas morning. The lead up, excitement and joy. This happens to me every time I know a Soldier, Sailor, Marine or Airmen who I had the opportunity to entertain in Iraq or Afghanistan comes to see me here back home. Knowing they made it back and I get to see them HERE ALIVE! Nothing in my life has this kind of significance, importance and is as internally powerful. The joy is completely fueled by relief. In some cases seeing them can/has been difficult. Life back home is far from easy for a good number of our heroes. But seeing them, shaking their hand & sharing that manly or womanly hug let’s me know whatever fight they may be having at least it’s here on the home front now. My respect, friendship, support and loyalty will never waver and is always accessible. I grew up with only sisters. Who undoubtedly bring my life’s biggest joys. In a way I have always searched for a brother… I have found many. In life, the military and even the entertainment world. What is life without true bonds between humans? Just wandering I would think. I have been fortunate to never wander. Which brings me to last night. My friend here is named Micah Clifton. We met in Iraq where he was in charge of keeping myself and the other comedians safe. I bonded with Micah tighter then any other service member over all my years. I have zero doubt it was do to his great sense of humor that complimented an incredible professionalism. His job was to keep us ignorant, safe & clear of the possible dangers that could and did come upon us. He was/is simply the BEST I have ever encountered at giving you a smile that tricked you into thinking everything is fine. I know this because since he’s been out I have gotten the “let me tell you what was REALLY happening THAT DAY talk”. When I tell you it takes a truly special kind of person to be able to navigate situation like those. Please understand my words here can never do his courage justice. Micah is one example of so many men and woman who under our colors function in ways most could never even comprehend and they hope you never do. Micah’s just one story, he’s my protector, my Christmas morning… My Brother! You made it f*cking back! Will love you till my final breath!
I served from 1990-1995. The 1st Gulf War took place on our watch. That time period defined my life, after having only a slight glimpse into the horrors of war. Since then, I have taken a number of trips back over to bring a little bit of humor to our service members. I feel I have to. I am no longer in, but I still have my duty. I still have my sense of family with those in uniform.
Today I see through the eyes of a thirty-something man, who feels somewhere along the line I got lucky in my youth, like I missed a bullet on my watch. Empathy for our service members past and present is with me constantly. The military is where I became a man. Where I gained the tools to achieve anything I set my mind to. Where I got my very best friends, who remain so to this very day. Individuals who don’t know how to leave you when times seem impossible. Part of me wishes I could stand side by side with our brave service members today, but another part of me would be asking many questions regarding the situation we are currently in. I feel each of those sides has come with age, and my cherished experiences with the type of individuals who would be at my side.
There was a point when I had to take a break from going over. I had seen too much & my mind had to really sort all of it out. I had taken trips every summer to Iraq & Afghanistan starting back in the spring of 2004. Then in August of 2007 I found myself on a ship in the middle of the Persian Gulf – again – this time not a sailor, but a comedian. I was with my great friend and fine comedian Dan Smith, standing on the deck of a Naval LPD Ship, taking in the sunset. I remember he said to me, “This is the same ship you were on when you were here in the Persian Gulf… that is insane! Now you are going to do comedy for these sailors… Do you realize how amazing that is? You must feel so proud Peej.” I replied, ”I’m not, Dan. It’s odd? I feel no pride whatsoever. I feel sad. I was here on a ship just like this one, in this same exact place when I was 19 years old. Young people lost their lives. I am here again at 35 and even more young people are losing their lives? I know I have grown… apparently we haven’t.”
I returned again to entertain our troops and sailors this past Christmas 2009. I know they put the uniform on for all of us faceless, nameless Americans. I know how genuinely special that is. I truly with every fiber of my being thank them and love them! Wherever they go, wherever they are stationed, I will show up with my bag of humor, and, just as important, be here for them when this all hopefully ends. We have to be! God Bless All Who Serve!
The following is a beautiful Memorial Day Poem
When I’m Gone – by Mrs. Lyman Hancock
When I come to the end of my journey
And I travel my last weary mile,
Just forget if you can, that I ever frowned
And remember only the smile.
Forget unkind words I have spoken;
Remember some good I have done.
Forget that I ever had heartache
And remember I’ve had loads of fun.
Forget that I’ve stumbled and blundered
And sometimes fell by the way.
Remember I have fought some hard battles
And won, ere the close of the day.
Then forget to grieve for my going,
I would not have you sad for a day,
But in summer just gather some flowers
And remember the place where I lay,
And come in the shade of evening
When the sun paints the sky in the west
Stand for a few moments beside me
And remember only my best.