“It’s Veterans’ Day,” was the shout across the country. It was a chance for some to get off work, and a day out of school for students. Local stores are full this day as shoppers come out in droves to find a good deal.
The day was warmer than usual, and I stood outside the local Wal-Mart enjoying the heat. I walked inside and noticed four veterans sitting on a bench, each one talking back and forth and reminiscing about a time when things were different. I listened in as they spoke of their war days, each one in a different time frame in history. One of the veterans, an older gentleman who fought in the WWII campaign, was listening as one of the others spoke of his service in Vietnam. The elder man’s eyes became fixed in a stare as his very thoughts seemed to appear on a screen in front of him, as if he was back in Normandy on the beaches fighting for his life, the life of his brothers and for the people who were passing by him enjoying the fruits of his struggle. One of the other veterans had to speak the old man’s name a couple of times to bring him back to the present, but he didn’t say another word. He was the oldest of the four, somewhere in his mid-nineties, and had seen some of the worst fighting of the Great War of the Forties as they called it, known to us WWII. The others were from the Vietnam Era and the Korean Era, respectively.
His beard was long, and with a crooked cane wedged in front of him, he sat motionless, occasionally looking up to see people pass by and look at him as if he were contagious. One could tell his heart sunk. “I can take no more of this,” I said to myself, and I humbly walked over and asked if I could join in their conversation. I politely told them thanks for my opportunity to have a job and a family. As I sat there, none of the veterans went into detail of their dreadful times in the wars, nor did I expect them to. The older man still remained in his blank stare and said nothing, but there was something going on, so I said, “Are you alright?” He simply looked up at me, and I knew as he looked through my soul that he was not. A small tear formed in his eye as if there were none left: he looked with compassion and pain. I knew he couldn’t shake the memories, and he showed me his pain without speaking a word. The others stopped talking, as well, and their memories seemed to return in force. We sat as if no one else existed. A few people voiced their appreciation, and as time went on, they stood, shook hands with each other as equals in defense of right and country and went their separate ways.
I felt a deep sense of gratitude as they walked away, and for a moment, I seemed to feel that burden they carry every day, a burden of remembrance, and at the same time, there is no way I could. This Veterans’ Day, try and put yourselves for a moment in their shoes. These men and women will forever carry in their minds the moments in time when fear gripped their souls, their love of their fellow countrymen and love drove them into the line of bullets and they faced an enemy so brutal that nightmares plague them for years after. Soldiers who believed that there was a greater cause than themselves, who when asked, did a duty that for many cost them their lives, and many have not yet returned and may never. A veteran, however, does not expect you to try on their shoes, only to appreciate the life given to you at the cost of their friends who died fighting beside them. There is no way to describe what a veteran goes through each day. What can be said is that a veteran is proud of the service that they have performed no matter if people give them thanks or not. Do not forget those that have been laid in unmarked graves with nothing but a stone to remember them. They deserve to be remembered, and, for me, they always will.
The aged veteran walked out the door with a cane that seemed to strain from years of service, getting almost knocked over by running youth and catching the usual grimace from people who were to in too big of a hurry to slow down as he slowly walked away. His mind was somewhere else. Now he was back with his friends; he was home. Thank you veterans for your service and let us always remember your comrades who never came back.