The Real Thing

I was in Seattle this weekend, and, driving the way home to Portland, I passed Fort Lewis, a major U.S. Army base, also located near the huge McChord Air Force Base (as well as near a V.A. hospital). It’s the home of I Corp and includes the 3rd Brigade/Stryker Combat Team, which at one point relieved the legendary but then exhausted 101st Airborne Division in Iraq, being some of the first Stryker’s deployed over there. Stryker’s are these eight-wheeled light-armor vehicles. Despite their high-tech shielding, electronics, and armaments, they’re still prey to IEDs, particularly the “shaped charges” used to penetrate armor.

Fort Lewis is a relatively old base–I think it was built around the first World War, with some of those military buildings that look like they belong on a faded 4″x4″ color print (the kind with the edges that seem to have been cut by Pinking shears). This being the Northwest, the area’s very green and lush, though somewhat suburban, homes and businesses peeking behind tree trunks, and you see signs in the strip malls like “Military Loans” and “Tactical Tailor.”

At one point, an overpass crossing Interstate Five connects what appears to be two sections of the base, and just as the car was about to slip into the bridge’s shadow, I looked up to see that, along the entire span, flowers have been tied or wired to the pedestrian railings. Long dead, the bouquets have dried to a hard, brittle black, but no one has taken them down. The entire overpass.

And then it was gone, receding in the rear-view mirror.

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