They Walk Among Us

Veterans. We all know them. My husband is one – Vietnam. My father was one – Korea. My uncle was one – World War II. My office mate is one – Vietnam. My only sister’s only son, my nephew, is now serving in the U.S. Army and while he has not been deployed, in all likelihood he will be. And whether you don’t have a family member or someone you know personally, you do know someone who is a veteran of war. Many serve and then carry on with their lives. And unless they’re asked about it during some related conversation, they never talk about it. They just did what their country required of them, came home and resumed. Forever changed in some way, many ways.

My husband Peter served in the Navy. He was a navigator for a large repair ship anchored in the Mekong river. His ship was one of those that went up the Mekong into Cambodia during the incursion. He rarely talks of his year in that war-torn country. He’s easy going, bright, loving and kind. But one of the few things he has shared with me and others is that when he arrived and settled in on the ship, he noticed the sound of hand grenades being fired every minute – 24/7. And then he explains that it was because anchored ships were targets for mines floating down the river. The grenades were released to detonate those mines before they reached the ship.

While Peter never saw direct combat, the sound of those grenades was a constant reminder of the danger to the ship where he lived and to himself. I think that those exposed to such circumstances, simply learn to live with that danger. They had no choice to do otherwise.

Many have turned the trauma of their war experiences into a career serving others. My friend George, also a Vietnam vet, was in the infantry and saw combat. He also doesn’t like to talk about it and he still jumps at any loud sounds. For many years he suffered from night terrors. It’s my understanding that he still does when he’s stressed. He is a brilliant psychologist and works with those suffering from trauma.

I don’t share these short stories to evoke sympathy for these men. They would not want that from me, you, or anyone else. They served their country. They have made brilliant lives for themselves and their service is now in their past. But the sacrifices they made were great. And many did not come home – they gave the ultimate sacrifice.

This past summer, Peter and I attended a free concert in our home town presented by the U.S. Air Force Falconaires – a great jazz band that travels the country and serves as ambassador for the Air Force. I am not a rah-rah military person in any way. I come from a generation slightly younger than those who actively protested the Vietnam war. And I have to say, that I was not thrilled when my nephew decided to join the Army instead of going to college.

Because our love of jazz, we decided to go and hear the band. The music was fantastic. The members of the band performed in dress uniform. Their talent and program unsurpassed. They played to a full hall and to people of all ages.

At the end of the concert, the band played the anthems for each of the five services. As each anthem was played, men and women stood up throughout the hall. Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard – each represented by veterans – so many of them. When my beloved Peter stood up, I cried. The man I live with every day gave so much for his country.

He wouldn’t say it was so much. But it was. And all those in that hall that evening stood with pride, and maybe a little embarrassment, too. To be recognized for something they did, maybe many years ago, maybe just recently.

May we never forget them and may we remember them especially today.