By Allen Hamrick
The day was warmer than usual, and I stood outside at a local street bench enjoying the heat. I noticed a couple of 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 at a different time in history. One of the veterans, an older gentleman who fought in WWII, was listening as the other 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. He was back in a time when the very next second his life could have been flushed out, and for what, he thought. The Vietnam Veteran spoke the older man’s name a couple of times to bring him back to the present, but he wasn’t talking just yet; he was still there. He was 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.
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. I took a seat beside them but neither of the two men had much to say to me, nor did I expect them to. The older man still had a blank stare and said nothing, but there was something going on. I knew he couldn’t shake the memories, and he showed me his pain without speaking a word. 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 in their shoes for a moment. These men and women will forever carry in their minds the moments in time when fear gripped their souls, when their love of country and fellow men drove them into the line of bullets as they faced an enemy so brutal that nightmares plagued them for years after. Soldiers, believing that there was a greater cause than themselves, did their duty when asked that, for many, cost their very lives. Many have not yet returned and may never.
A Veteran 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 no matter what war or battle they fought in. What can be said is that a Veteran is proud of the service that they have given, no matter if people give them credit 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.
I watched as the older Veteran walked off into the sunset, his cane creaking from the many years of dedicated service, and each step he took seemed to take longer than the last one. He was trying to get across the street and no one would let him pass; people were in too big of a hurry to slow down. I started to get up and stop traffic, but other Veterans who were nearby did the job for me. He was now among friends as car horns blared, drivers annoyed by the delay in their busy life. He shook the hands of the ones who helped him, and just for an instant smiled as they bid farewell. He made it to the other side and walked until he was out of sight. He was going home.
There are very few WWII Veterans left to tell their stories, much of which aren’t even taught in our schools these days. It is a shame that average, everyday individuals who were called upon when this country needed them the most have been forever changed by the impact of war.
We must never forget… never! Thank you Veterans for your service, and let us always remember your comrades who never came back.