For those of you who missed the Memorial Day observances at the military museum in Weston this Saturday, you missed the opportunity of a life time. Aside from the fact that the parade was rather nice, the ceremony at the court house very dignified and well planned, the food outstanding, and the flag and wreath ceremony at the museum being very moving as always, there were a group of men and women at the museum you really should have met.
Present for the event were representatives of every conflict the US military has participated in since WWII. We had veterans from WWII, Korea, Vietnam, Panama, Honduras, Somalia, Bosnia, Desert Storm, OIF, OEF, and Granada. We even had a WAC in attendance, a marine who charged the embassy during the hostage crisis in the mid 1980s, a marine who was present when the college students were liberated from the campus in Granada, a soldier who started his career in the army and finished in the newly constructed air force during WWII, a marine who fought at midway, a soldier who landed at Omaha beach then fought across all of Germany, and a soldier who not only fought at the Battle of the Bulge, but also liberated TWO concentration camps. We even had a doctor present who was involved in the ground floor building of the PTSD treatments developed by the VA after Vietnam.
I did a rough count in my head, and between all of the veterans there, we had over 50 purple hearts between us (though many of us had multiple awards). One soldier even received two purple hearts in four days, taking shrapnel injuries during the D-Day assaults, and then a bullet wound to the shoulder during skirmish activity farther inland. The stories told under that tent would have awed any man. From tales of encounters in the trenches in France, to stories of battles fought on the Ho Chi Min Trail in Vietnam. Never once were there complaints about our sacrifices, only a few grumbles about the VA care and such (the usual griping, it's a soldiers' duty to complain, if we aren't complaining about something we are mostly likely plotting *snicker*).
As I sat there listening to the others, and sharing my own stories of the war, I was reminded of a man I met while in Washington during Memorial Day, in 2008. His name eludes me now, but the encounter will live with me forever.
He came up to a group of us (wounded warriors from Walter Reed Army Hospital, Iraq and Afghanistan veterans wounded in action), shook our hands, hugged us, welcomed us home and told us he loved us. We talked with him for a bit, and he was more interested in hearing about us than talking about himself. Finally he told us, when we asked what he did in his war, that he flew for Air America over Cambodia during Vietnam, he even showed us his DD214 and some other papers about it. The thing that bothered me was that his DD214, while acknowledging his service in Vietnam, and stating that he had participated in "covert flight operations outside of the combat theater", and that he was wounded during combat operations, did not have a purple heart listed or a service connected injury statement. The man stood there on two canes held together with wire and tape, got down on knees that must have felt like shards of broken glass, and thanked ME? I don't think I have ever felt that humble in my life and doubt I ever shall again.
There was a tent set up near us for the Walter Reed soldiers to get food and drinks. When we went to enter, the officer in charge of the tent told us that our new friend would have to wait outside and that the refreshments were only for us. I went into the tent, got a ham sandwich, a bottle of water, and retrieved a pair of transfer canes that I no longer used (I had at that point been told I would never walk again), and went back outside. I gave them to that man, and said, "Here brother, thank you, we love you too." He wept like a child. You would have thought I had given him a pile of gold, and that he had never received anything from anyone ever before. We cried and held each other, and later we went to the wall and he showed me his friends and I showed him my families names. It was a moving day, and an educational one. I learned the most important lesson of my life. A sergeant takes care of his soldiers, not out of duty, but out of love, and that love doesn't end simply because you are no longer on duty. It stays with you forever. A sergeant loves his soldiers, all of them, no matter how young, no matter how old, no matter where they are or have been, forever. And frankly, in a sergeant's eyes, all soldiers are his soldiers. All of them, everywhere.
God bless you all this Memorial Day, may we never forget.