Real vs. Toy Soldiers: Remembering Actual Sacrifice, Struggles

Nick Hansen
BU News Service | OPINION

In a new commercial for the latest installment of the Call of Duty franchise, a popular first-person shooter video game, a group of four guys take to the streets of a post-apocalyptic Las Vegas with large weapons while Frank Sinatra’s “I’m Going To Live Till I Die” plays in the background.

They proceed to have a playful firefight shooting unseen bad guys. It looks more like a pickup football game than military combat. They bring the firefight to a hotel, the mountains, and even to space. Pinup girl Megan Fox makes a cameo. The commercial ends with one guy shooting down a helicopter with a bazooka. The tagline “There’s a Soldier in All of Us” appears as the guys walk away laughing and unscathed.

I wonder what my cousin Phillip Johnson, Jr., would think of that ad. He flew a UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter for the 571st Medical Company in Iraq. He was killed on Jan. 8, 2004, along with nine other men when his helicopter was shot down over Fallujah. He was a committed military man and left behind a wife and large extended family. He is now buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

Some Call of Duty players, presumably never left their couch on Monday. There were tweets like this one from user @chet_you_betch8h: “Time to celebrate this Veterans Day like any true Patriot would, CALL OF DUTY.” Or there was this one from user @lil_fredo: “Call of Duty All Day, just to show love to the Vets.”

I wondered how many of those people went and saw their town’s Veterans Day parades, like the one here in Boston.

Boston’s parade showcased the city at its best. There was the Boston Police Department Pipes and Drum band playing God Bless America. VFW posts from Mattapan and Chinatown marched by proudly in their class A uniforms. High school ROTC programs showed off their color guard skills.

The grand marshal of the parade, Private First Class Marshall, who recently returned from Afghanistan, was a polite, sharply dressed, young man who would make any mother proud. The afternoon was a chance to celebrate, honor, and remember.

I hope those Call of Duty fans get a chance meet somebody like Mark Terrell, an army veteran from West Roxbury. Terrell stood on the corner of Tremont and Park streets in a faded green jacket and a black baseball cap after the parade passed. He held a small American flag and some reading material on the US Constitution.

Terrell said he was homeless. He had been stationed at Fort Polk Louisiana in the early 80s and then served in the National Guard in the 90s. He said he tried to re-enlist after 9/11, but was declined due to health reasons.

Terrell said he did have a job at the West Roxbury VA, but was fired because he “started drinking again.”

Terrell was soft-spoken, but there was pride in his voice and a tiredness in his eyes. “I wish people knew about the sacrifices that we make, missing birthdays, weddings, Christmas, family events. It’s a great sacrifice,” he said. “I would die for this flag,” he said as he pointed to the one he was holding. Terrell also said he needed bus fare to get back to Quincy.

The 2011 Call of Duty game, Black Ops II, measures gaming statistics online. As of Tuesday morning there were more than 1.53 billion hours played and approximately 157 billion kills.

When these “soldiers” kill someone, I hope they think of PFC Marshall who had to make real life-or-death decisions while in Kandahar. When they shoot down a helicopter, I hope they think of my cousin Phillip and the empty seat at the Johnson dinner table. And when they finish their gaming sessions, I hope they think of Mark Terrell and his problems which cannot be shut off with the touch of a button.

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