On this Memorial Day weekend, we step away from workers compensation and personal injury to remember our vets in this classic portrait of our fighting men, now including women as well.

The Infantryman, author unknown

The average American infantry soldier is a 19 year old young man (or woman).  He is close to his comrades and protective of any woman in his unit, he respects his life may depend upon her doing her job.  He is a short haired, tight-muscled kid who, under normal circumstances is considered by society as more boy than man.  Not yet dry behind the ears, not old enough to buy a beer, but old enough to die for his country.  Less than a year ago, he was being hounded to get his homework done, and had to be reminded to pick up his room.  Now, he is literally on the front line between you and a terrorist bent on killing.

He’s a recent high school graduate, probably from a big city or small town public school; he was an average student, played sports, drives a junker or his mom’s car, and has a steady girlfriend that either broke up with him when he left, or swears to be waiting when he returns from half a world away.  He listens to rock, hip hop, country, or rap.

He is 10 or 15 pounds lighter than when he was at home because now he is working or fighting from before dawn to well after dusk.  He has trouble spelling and hasn’t done much writing, so letters are a pain for him; but he can field strip a rifle in 30 seconds and reassemble it in less, in the dark.  He can recite to you the nomenclature of a machine gun or grenade launcher and use either one with lethal effectiveness if he must.

He digs foxholes and latrines, and he can apply first aid like a professional.  He can march until he is told to stop or stop until he is told to march.  He obeys orders instantly and without hesitation, but he is not without spirit or individual dignity.

He is self-sufficient. He has two sets of fatigues: he washes one and wears the other. He keeps his canteens full and his feet dry.  He sometimes forgets to brush his teeth, but never to clean his rifle.  He can cook his own meals, mend his own clothes, and fix his own hurts.  If you’re thirsty, he’ll share his water with you; if you are hungry, his food. He’ll split his ammunition with you in the midst of battle when you run low. He has learned to use his hands like weapons and his weapons like they were his hands.  He can save a life – or take it, because it’s his job.

In each day, he will do many times the work of a civilian, but draw a fraction of the pay, and still find ironic humor in it all.  He will likely see more suffering and death than anyone should in a lifetime.  He has wept in public and in private, for friends who have fallen in combat and is unashamed.

For the rest of his life, he’ll feel every note of the National Anthem vibrate through his body while at rigid attention, quietly tempering the desire to ‘square-away’ those around him who haven’t bothered to stand, remove their hat, or stop talking.  He knows things that they never will, that day in and day out, far from home, young men and women, have suffered and died to defend the right to be disrespectful.

Just as did his father, grandfather, and theirs before them, he is paying the price for our lifestyle.  Grown or not, he is no longer a boy.  He is the American fighting man, that has kept this country free and secure for over 240 years.

He asks nothing in return, except our friendship and understanding.  Remember him, always, for he has earned our respect and admiration with his sweat, blood and life.

McCormick Law Office in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Happy Memorial Day weekend!