An Ode to our Veterans

An ode to our nation’s warriors:
25 years or so ago, as a young Marine Sergeant coming home from overseas, I stepped off the plane to the sound of cheers, marching bands, and flags waving. Warm homecomings.
On my trip home, I saw WW2, Korean and Vietnam veterans standing in the terminals, and on the docks saluting us Marines and Sailors returning from overseas after the war in Iraq.

 I felt like I didn’t deserve any of that, I didn’t feel I had earned it, but it deeply humbled me to return an undeserved salute from an old Marine Vietnam Veteran with purple hearts on his chest. 

Standing there in his old Marine uniform, his ribbons and medals testified to his journey through hell. 

Half of his left arm was missing. On his neck and face, he had visible knife and shrapnel wound scars from war, and I could merely speculate about his scars and wounds not seen. He seemed a bit frail, but he stiil had the “thousand yard stare”, and that Marine fire in his eyes that another Marine can spot in an instant.

That Vietnam veteran had been through pure hell, and he had been through hell more than once for his love of this country, and he came back home to jeers and insults, not cheers and marching bands.
I recall my first thought was, since I had never faced the enemy, or fired a shot in war, HE deserved the salute, and this warm homecoming, not me. I felt so undeserving and humbled.
When HE got off the plane from Vietnam some 20 years before this, his was not such a warm homecoming. Yet, on this day, there was no envy in his eyes, no bitterness. Just pride and gratitude. He was an old, grateful Warrior who knew the bloody price of freedom, and he was glad I had not paid the price he had. He knew, as I know now, that freedom isn’t free, and it never will be.
I saluted, then shook his hand and spoke to him briefly. “You deserve this, not me”. He said “I’m just glad things have changed, and I’m glad to see ya’ll coming home son, … many of my Marine brother’s didn’t”. 

He was oblivious to the cheers and marching bands, That’s not what he was there to see. He was just proud to see the war was over, with far fewer casualties than the one he had experienced. And with tears in his eyes, he hugged me, and told me he was glad to see there are still men and women willing to answer the call for our nation.

I will never forget meeting that Vietnam veteran on that sunny spring day in North Carolina. In that brief encounter, he taught me a life lesson I have reflected upon many times over the years. Life is precious. Life is fragile. And Freedom comes with a cost.

Warriors don’t start wars, nor decide when or where to fight, that’s the political side of war, they have no control over that, but as citizens, Warriors must answer the call, and it is often a bloody business. Never begrudge our soldiers for the sometimes bloody things they have to do in war, at the command of our leaders.
Just know our Warriors aren’t so much concerned with killing as they are concerned with taking care of their brothers in arms, and exercising their right to NOT DIE in combat. Any blood they shed is on the hands of their leaders, not them.

When that Warrior was called, he had answered, and he had shed his own blood to help preserve our freedom, and our way of life. I am thankful to him for his sacrifice, and grateful such a price was not required of me, or any of my comrades.
And I’m glad, and proud to see America looks at our soldiers and Marines in a different, much more positive light than they did in the 60’s and 70’s. I pray our Warriors always have warm homecomings. If you know a deployed soldier, a handwritten letter of encouragement, and a yellow ribbon around a tree in your yard means a lot.

“Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13 KJV)

Thank you to my Marine brothers, and ALL our Veterans and the families who stand by and support them.
Thank a Veteran today, especially a VIETNAM Veteran!. God bless this great land of ours!

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