June 1, 2014 by The Citron Review
by Lisbeth Prifogle
My first memory of war is yellow. Yellow is warm and happy. War is death and violence. The two will forever be intertwined: Yellow is war. War is yellow.
It was cold, so it must have been November or December in our podunk Indiana town. Dad was a local Boy Scout leader and it was my brother’s troop’s community service project to help set up for the ceremony. In matching uniforms, the teenage boys hammered crosses and flags in perfect lines on the courthouse lawn. In my memory, the lawn was covered with thousands of crosses with yellow ribbons snapping in the bitter wind. In reality, it was probably only a few hundred.
I remember helping mom cut the ribbons earlier that day. It seemed more important than ever to make them perfect. The scouts tied the ribbons to the crosses as I played on the giant steps in the town square. I can’t remember if I played dragons and princess, or Pound Puppies; but I remember I was happy. When my brother finished his civil duties he joined me in my make believe world while a local politician’s assistant set up a podium. The memory fades in and out, like trying to remember a dream after waking.
The sun set early and the city lights flickered on. Snow fell, glistening in the streetlights that cast long shadows on the lawn. Mom forced me to stand still long enough to pin a yellow ribbon on my purple coat as I pretended that my shadow was a monster chasing me.
“Hold still,” she scorned.
What’s this for?” I asked.
“For the soldiers who are at war protecting us tonight. They won’t be coming home for the holidays this year, isn’t that sad?” She asked, but focused on making the ribbon perfectly straight.
“Why?” I asked, not grasping these concepts of war or not being home for Christmas.
“Because there are bad people in the world that the soldiers have to protect us from,” she explained.
“Oh.” Grown-up’s explanations never satisfied my curiosity, but I would ask my sister later. She knew everything that the grown-ups didn’t want me to know. “Do you have any chapstick?”
A man gave a speech. He could have been the local mayor or the president. Someone said a prayer and then we sang “Proud to be an American” while waving miniature flags and yellow ribbons. I heard that song a thousand times that fall and almost had the chorus memorized. I mumbled the words through chapped lips while waving my miniature flag with pride.
“And I’m proud to be an American,
where at least I know I’m free.
And I won’t forget the men who died,
who gave that right to me.
And I gladly stand up,
next to you and defend her still today.
‘Cause there ain’t no doubt I love this land,
God bless the USA.”
That winter, there was a direct correlation between the number of times I heard the word “war” and the amount of yellow decorating the town. Everyone had yellow ribbons pinned on their coats and backpacks, yellow signs displayed in their yards, yellow magnets stuck to their cars, and even the Christmas trees were saturated with yellow.
Eighteen years later, I pack my bags for my generation’s war. Nobody wears yellow ribbons anymore. There just doesn’t seem to be a need for yellow – war is a part of life, not an exception to it.
Instead of yellow ribbons they post, “I support the troops” on online social networks. I wonder now, as I wondered as a kid, how does it help the troops? What difference does an eight year old girl wearing a yellow ribbon on a purple coat, or reposting a picture of flag-draped coffins really make? We are trained to take orders without question. Trained to kill, with or without yellow.
I travel from the safety of my southern California home to a “war-zone.” In the twilight of the evening we arrive and drive to the barracks on the other side of base. As we drive, I notice that there are no lights on, even the headlights of the vehicles are set to dim. I look out over the landscape of my new home; there is nothing but sand, rock and an occasional dead shrub. In the fading light, as far as I can see it’s yellow.
Lisbeth Prifogle served her country as a United States Marine officer. She is currently working on a memoir about her experiences in a war zone. Lisbeth keeps a blog titled The Next Bold Move and is a regular contributor to the website Hormones Matter. When she’s not writing she’s known to take her many adventures on the road traveling to Peru, Scotland and exploring various national landmarks. Her personal essays have been featured in Poem Memoir Story, The Splinter Generation, and In the Know Traveler.
Thank you for your service, Ma’am. This piece is incredibly moving. This is on my faves list. Thank you for sharing that piece of yourself.