A couple of years ago I spent several great nights in a fantastic bar. And not just any old fantastic bar, but Robert’s Western World in Nashville, Tennessee, probably one of the great bars anywhere. On the face of it, there’s nothing remarkable about it: It’s a small, glass-fronted boozer, with the bar running down the length of one side, shelves full of cowboy boots running down the other and the beers pretty dire (we are in the State’s after all). But there’s enough whisky (sipping or otherwise), stetsons, dancing, good ol’ boys and sensational live bands to keep anyone happy for oh, about 12 hours a night, I reckon.
I’d been recommended this bar by my old mate and former colleague Jim Frederick (that’s him above, left , trying to keep the author upright, in front of the stage in Robert’s). Jim knew that me and my pal Shaun would be in Nashville and arranged to meet us there.
He had left the UK to return home to the States to write a book of the true story of some US soldiers who go into a spot of bother in Iraq. In fact they got into a lot of bother. A lot of his research took Jim to Kentucky and Tennessee and the Army posts and barracks thereabouts.
The three of us settled in for a long night of chat and booze, country music playing and boots stamping all around us. As the three of us drank and jawed our way though the evening, Jim had Shaun and I spellbound by his story, a sad, occasionally horrific, always gripping tale of boys plucked from the suburbs, given a gun, shouted at and sent abroad to fight. What happened to them created headlines all around the world and is an astounding yarn of the effects and the stresses of battle on our fighting forces. I demanded a copy of the book when it came out.
A night or two later (or it may have been that same night, my memory isn’t what it was) into this maelstrom of Johnny Cash tribute bands, blue-grass guitars, hoopings-and-a-hollerings, and yee-haws, walked a young lad and his family. The relatives had come into town for a drink and to toast this young man and wish him good luck. He was off overseas to fight in one of the wars in which America was involved.
He was in his number 1’s, USMC mess uniform, immaculately turned out, tightly cropped blonde hair and looked about 17 years old.
And he looked absolutely terrified.
Then a very strange thing happened to me: I stood up as he walked by and I shook his hand, wishing him good luck. Dunno why I did that. Have never considered myself a war-monger, and am no great patriot (even in my own country, let alone theirs) but yet I felt this was the correct thing to do. I guess it was because I could see the fear in this lads eyes, and got angry at the madness and folly of sending our youth to the slaughter, leaving the politicians thousands of miles behind at home to spin their corrupt webs.
I’ve never been that close to a Marine before or since (during our stay, everywhere was swarming with young soldiers on their way to, or returning from some conflict-or-other). It’s not something you see very often back home, thank god. But without getting too daft about it, I will remember that boy’s face for a very, very long time.
Anyway, the book’s out now, and I’m about to order it. So should you.