Cassandra Arciola and her mother Teresa have lived in Elmsford for 25 years. Her younger brother passed away while serving their country. She wanted Americans to understand the cost of war and realize the damage that veterans live with.
Sept. 11, 2001 was my generation's Day of Infamy. I remember standing in line with my brother, Rob, at the Elmsford blood bank. The line stayed still for hours. We heard low murmuring voices. I mentioned that I needed to get to work. A man in line told me that he thought they would understand if I was late.
Back home, my youngest brother Mike, who I called "Wudy," was shaving his head. My mother still has the hair he shaved in an envelope. Michael had hopes of getting into West Point, but after 9/11, he decided that he could do more good in the infantry. He would be on the ground in the thick of the fight. He was only 16. At 17, my mother let him sign up for the Army's delayed entry program.
In 2003, he graduated from Alexander Hamilton High School. Nine days later, he left for boot camp. The months leading up to boot camp, Michael did his own training. He had always been athletic, but now he was getting up before school to go running with a heavy pack on his back. He wrote in his yearbook how he was going to catch Osama bin Laden.
When he graduated from boot camp, he volunteered to go straight to Afghanistan. The Army said "no," that he was too green. He shipped off to the DMZ in South Korea, Camp Casey. I received a phone call from my mother one day, saying that they were pulling troops out of South Korea and sending them to Iraq. We knew before Mike.
By September 2004, he was in Iraq. We didn't and couldn't know where. All we knew was that it was exceedingly dangerous. They didn't have running water, they had to burn their excrement, and it was too dangerous to go down the road to the base to have a real meal.
My mother had already started sending packages. Mike sent emails saying that he didn't have room for all that was being sent to him. Mom's response: "Give me names." When he complied, the rotation began. At least once a week, we were at the Elmsford Post Office with a copier paper box covered in duct tape and brown paper. The address was on the box in many different places. Once, we got a message that one of our boxes had survived an explosion.
On Feb. 15, 2005, my little brother was killed by a sniper while returning fire in Ar Ramadi, Iraq. I was the one who answered the door when Major Read and Father Jerry from West Point came to the door. It was around 6 a.m. I hadn't slept well and told my mother that there were recruiters at the door. She asked me if they had the same uniform as Mike. Seeing the blue braid that the Army Infantry wears on Major Read, I said "yes," and then realized why they were there.
My little brother will never be a veteran, per say, because he did not survive the war. In the six-plus years since he has been gone, I have met many veterans who have opened up to me and relayed their stories. I had heard of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, but hearing their stories of horrible battles, reliving it all minute-by-minute, being blown up and beaten. Watching the only others that you can count on dying in your arms.
I weep for them. I will never know what it is like for them, but I feel so deeply for them. The high rate of suicides in the military is astounding. It is not something that the average American even knows about.
Every day, I wonder: is war ever worth it? Depending on the day, my answer goes from "yes" to "no" to "I just don't know."
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