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August 26, 2009, Volume 17 Nr. 1, Issue 253
In a word...

Peter Shepherd 

When I was growing up in the early 1940's Boy Scouts were members of a troop. In the army in 1954, we were referred to as troops or troopers.  "Trooper" had affectionate edge to it; if an officer or non-commissioned officer called us "troopers" it was said with an element of pride as though the speaker thought we were what he had been training us for.  Indeed, one was a "good trooper" if one did what was expected, and, somehow, more with regard to getting through a particularly demanding march or battle or situation.  "I expect you all to be good troopers about this" was not uncommonly heard when a command for an extremely difficult or uncomfortable task was being assigned, and when we were through and had done quite well, we might have heard something like "You’re a hell of a bunch of troopers!”

But seldom was the term used euphemistically to cover or hide a reality. Quite simply, a "good trooper" was a "good soldier," and "good soldier" was what my father said in his goodbye to me as I left home to be in the army. He said "Be a good soldier, Pete."  What he meant was to do honorably what was expected.  I don't think he mean to go out there and kill someone; he certainly meant be good and do your duty as ordered and don't mess it up.

I got the message later when someone told the squad or platoon or company of soldiers I was part of after some sort of chore or test "You were good troopers."

Where I am going with this is what just happened a short time ago on a recent Wednesday on which I write? She said that "Two more troops had died in Afghanistan today." An impossibility in the Korean War, but since Iraq soldiers individually have been called "troops" individually and in a large group of some sort still "troops."

An event of expression which ran concurrently with this switch of word and words-use was the disappearance of any single photograph or group photograph of flag-draped caskets containing United States soldiers.

What is irksome about these simple and apparently harmless descriptions is the simplification of the idea of even just one dead soldier in a mass of "troops" and is, thereby, minimized into hardly anyone at all.......or any thing at all. Just troops.

But troops are groups.....of individual, once living, once breathing, once feeling, once loving....sons and daughters, husbands and wives, aunts and uncles.

"Good troopers."

© 2009 Peter Shepherd

The writer is a retired English teacher whose compulsion to write every day leads him to comment on a variety of things.

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