I haven’t “met” Patrick Nelson- but I know him. I’ve seen Patrick on the news; he shares his Bronze Star status with my grandpa- and like my grandfather, walked into a recruitment center and enlisted believing in the patriotic cause.
I walked in to the recruiters that week and started the process of transferring over to serve with my Active Duty brothers. I saw the images on TV of soldiers preparing to head to war but I knew that it was slim that my National Guard unit would be called up. I withdrew from my classes and impatiently waited for the paperwork to be processed. Finally, in January of 2002, I was headed over to Germany for my first duty assignment. My military occupational specialty dealt with howitzer cannons, however; the unit I was assigned to was a multiple launch rocket systems Brigade. 6 months after arriving in Germany, I was reassigned to the historic 173rd Airborne Brigade out of Vicenza, Italy. I re-enlisted twice throughout my career and specifically chose to remain with the “Sky Soldiers” of the 173rd. I spent the rest of my military career with the 173rd which included a 12 month tour in Iraq, a 12 month tour in Afghanistan and then a 15 month tour in Afghanistan. I progressed through the ranks and served many different roles on a variety of missions. In June of 2005, I was wounded by a 107mm rocket while preparing to download a resupply helicopter that landed at our remote Forward Observation Base.
When Patrick and I talked about the life he has led, it had striking parallels of the time and space that my grandfather spent in the Army. As a World War II veteran, my grandfather Murray Goldstein is one of very few Bronze Star recipients still fighting the big fight- veteran affairs; he has gone from a lifetime businessman and politician, to caretaker and caregiver (grandma did a pretty good job for the first 64 years of their marriage, its time he share some of the household responsibilities). In 2007 the Army FINALLY pinned the Bronze Star on my grandfather for his bravery through injury; but he WON’T tell anyone what he saw and experienced at Rome-Arno, or in Po Valley (the biggest campaigns in Italy during WWII, yet the least documented battles of the time- people forget that Mussolini was a cohort of Stalin and the Third Reich). Grandpa was injured in Italy and survived a Malaria infection outbreak- until 7th grade I associated the war with drunken urinating off of the Leaning Tower of Pisa, and the pictures of he and his younger brother, my great uncle Leo- looking very cute in their pea-soup-green uniforms- posing for my grandma and Aunt Dot, knowing these images would make history.
Yet history can’t be defined by images and heresy- it needs to be concrete- with numbers and statistics determining what happened, who was there, and the number of people affected by the battles. Sometimes I wish my grandpa was my age? I wish that he could have taken footage and used Facebook or Twitter in Italy- to tell all of us daily news, and keep his entire world holding their breath on what will happen next. For the greatest generation, my generation needs to continue Twittercizing, posting on Facebook, and support the rioting in the streets- its the only way we can evolve into a globalized society with a goal to survive into the 22nd century.
Patrick Nelson gave a gift to my grandfather that I can never buy, learn, experience, touch or ingest- he understood where he “was” then, and where he “is” today. Patrick has triumphed through adversity and done so much for so many by being the best soldier he could be.
Former Army paratrooper and Minnesota State University, Mankato student Patrick Nelson has been awarded the NFL-Tillman Scholarship. The scholarship is granted to those who have served the country while continuing their efforts to further their education. The scholarship was created in memory of former Arizona Cardinal Pat Tillman, who gave up his NFL career to enlist in the Army in 2002. He was killed while serving in Afghanistan in 2004. The award is meant to give service members and their dependents access to educational opportunities and encourage their life long commitment to the service. Nelson served for 39 months between Iraq and Afghanistan before exiting the military due to his interest in furthering his education and the complications from injuries he suffered while in combat.
Patrick has spent quality time on the phone with Grandpa - knowing that he is a little over 85 years old, has rarely discussed or documented his militarycampaigns, and has refused to give details to me- even when I could have documented his story for the Florida State University collection. It took months of my time researching information on the GI Bill to realize that like many of the students enrolling at NYFA, my grandfather has post traumatic stress disorder from his time in the trenches. PTSD is as undiagnosed today as it was in the 1940’s- and will continue to plague my grandfather. Yes, he has a wonderful wife, beautiful children, in-laws, his brother, grand-children, and one king of a great-grandson…but something always lingered. Something has always stayed within him, pushing the memories into the outer-banks of his mind. Patrick doesn’t have to prod my grandfather for information- the minute he told my grandfather that he too had been injured as a young soldier fighting for democracy, they sealed their friendship. Patrick may know what my grandfather has seen, and I am fine with that. I don’t know, and neither do his children, wife or extended family; we are OK with grandpa talking to Patrick, knowing that his story needs to be told.
Patrick Nelson and RealCombatLife have provided multiple veterans with the opportunity to air out their dirty laundry- to tell all, get it off their chests, and heal their wounds. Patrick needs your help- if you are a veteran, a family member of a veteran, or know a veteran that has a story- reach out to Patrick Nelson through RealCombatLife. Patrick’s mission is clear: keep the truth out there, and the rest will fall into place.