All veterans are forever linked
A Vietnam vet friend of mine told me a year ago, “People will shake your hand. Thank you for your service. And say they will write you every day. They’ll send care packages the first couple months, and after a while, they will forget all about you. Once you’ve been in Iraq for six months, the people will have gone on with their lives as if you were never even a part of it. That’s life as a soldier, son. We do the dirty work, so everybody else can enjoy life. We see blood and shed tears, while civilians debate the war. We get blamed for killing children, while the civilians attempt to understand the enemy and form an opinion that the enemy has a just cause. You are going into the same thing I experienced, and I really feel for you because you will never be the same again.”
His rugged, wrinkled face twitched as he discussed difficult memories. His words were sharp, decisive and sad. His frizzled grey hair, beady black eyes and two-inch bifocals might give somebody the impression that he was a crazy mad man, but in reality, he was a veteran of a war that scarred him for life.
I look back on the conversation with my old friend, and think he was right on target with most things. He was right about civilians debating how and why we should do everything, and he was right about getting blamed for killing civilians. But he was off the mark when he said my friends would forget me. Vietnam was a different time and I believe our country is ashamed of our actions in the 1960s, and the people are trying to make up for the embarrassing acts committed by hippies and racists. My friends have been incredible throughout this deployment. I’ve heard from people from high school, ex-girlfriends and people I’ve never even met. My weekly emails and (this) blog get sent all over the world. I’ve become that guy… “I have a friend I work with who has a brother who used to know this guy who worked for his dad who has a son in Iraq.” One day, I received a reply from an old lady in California who read my forwarded emails. I followed the chain and realized it had been forwarded 75 times!
When I stepped off the plane for leave, random business women, construction workers and old vets bought my lunch and thanked me profusely. I wish my Vietnam friend would have experienced this kind of support. While I can’t change how the people acted in the ‘60s and ‘70s, I can stay true to my brothers of foreign wars.
I plan to become a member of VFW, and thank every fellow veteran for their sacrifices. As a kid, I never appreciated what they did during WWII and Vietnam and Korea and Desert Storm. But now that I am a little more seasoned, I understand. I can see how somebody could go to war and totally flip out when they return to the states, eventually becoming homeless. One thing is for sure, I won’t make fun of the next homeless Vietnam vet I see. It’s easy for people to say, “that was 30 years ago. Get on with your life. Get a job.” Those people probably never held their best friend in their arms as he bled to death, while bullets fly and mortars land all around. The next time I see a raggedy man in old fatigues with a sign that reads “Homeless vet needs work,” I will first quiz him for military knowledge (just to ensure he’s not a shamster). If he is indeed a veteran, I’ll extend my right hand, say thanks and find a job for the man.
My friend was right; I never will be the same. Before this, I probably wouldn’t have even acknowledged a homeless vet’s existence. Now, I’m forever linked to him.