Admiration from Afar
The 2010 Census recorded 21.8 million veterans in the United States. As I pondered for this post, it struck me humble how few Vets I know personally. I mean there are acquaintances and friends-of-friends who Served. And no doubt others in my purview are Vets, but I am unaware of it. Still, my first hand exposure to this Honorable Lot is few and far between. I am not at all connected.
I am not a Veteran. I understand war by books and news footage in the comfort of my living room. I proffer but civilian-respect for our Brave and Fallen. It’s genuine. I venerate the monuments. I observe solemn ceremonies. I can be inspired by Remembrance Day tributes. I salute the Flag with hand on heart. I intrigue casual study of military leaders and battleground heroics. I fancy myself as patriotic and pro military. I am a typical citizen. I admire our Veteran heroes in earnest, but from afar.
Few and Proud
So what do I know? The better question is Who. Here’s to the precious few and proud I know:
There is neighborhood rumor of a “crazy man” across the way. They say he is afflicted with post traumatic stress disorder acquired in Afghanistan. I see him sitting outside sometimes. He’s always alone. He does look troubled, even crazed. He stares sullenly and rejects even a casual greeting from any passerby. I wonder what happened to him over there? Everyone is afraid to ask. Me too.
Another soldier, turned local bartender, is far more approachable. I met him a few years back and we chatted for a good while about the war. His vivid accounts were gripping. He killed at least two Iraqi soldiers in a firefight. The gruesome details left no doubt. He is a schoolteacher now. Everyone says he’s a swell guy. That was my impression too.
He never laments. He always boasts proud to have been a Marine.
Then there is my young Marine-friend who hurt his lower back during his Iraqi tour. He does stretch exercises every morning to relieve the ache. He sometimes suffers stabbing pain across his extremities. He is fit and strong and manages by; but its always there and he suspects more angst as he ages. “If I ever have a child,” he confides, “I just hope I can pick her up when she reaches for me.” But of his Service he never laments. He always boasts proud to have been a Marine.
Dad and Uncle Jimmy
When my Father died, a local newspaper took liberty to describe him as a “Korean War Veteran” in bold headline over his obituary. That was true, but it seemed unfamiliar to we who loved him. Four decades earlier, Dad was a young draftee stationed in San Antonio, Texas for a brief stint in the Army. I know because he told me that he once visited the Alamo! Hardly war story heroics. Still, I’m proud of my Father for serving our country in whatever small way. He wore The Uniform. Yes he did.
My Mom’s brother—my Uncle Jimmy—saw battle in Korea. I have a great picture of him, shirtless sitting on a cot in Army casual. He was so young in that photo. Mom commented once that Jimmy returned from war a different person. She did not elaborate, except something about him having nightmares. Uncle Jimmy continued brave service throughout his life as stalwart Philadelphia Police Officer and Detective. He supported and raised a wonderful family—my first cousins. Even as a little kid I always admired Uncle Jimmy. May he rest in peace. Dad and Mom too.
.That Covers It
And that about covers my touch with real Veterans. Only a tiny smidgen, I know. But it’s more than enough to earn my deepest admiration for the few who I know and for the millions who I don’t. Thank you all for serving our country.
God Bless America and Veterans everywhere!