The men and women who have kept America free wear no badges or emblems, maybe except in a parade. It is difficult to tell a veteran by just looking. He is the parade leading VFW or American Legion honor guard, who tries to pin his ribbons and medals on with an artificial hand or the one that stands beside the parade route, coming to attention, removing his hat and placing his right hand over his heart as our flag passes by.
Some veterans have visible evidence of service to their country-a scar, a missing limb, a deep haunted look in their eyes, while others may carry the evidence inside-a metal plate in their head, a piece of shrapnel in the leg, a pin holding a bone together or perhaps another kind of inner hurt or turmoil that the eye cannot detect.
Just what is a veteran-–he is a fireman, a plumber, a farmer, a railroad conductor or maybe the mailman, who spent months in Iraq or Desert Storm, sweating 3 gallons a day to make sure the planes or tanks were patched up, fueled and ready to go at a moments notice, praying the incoming missiles didn’t find him.
He is the medic or corpman, who caringly tended the wounded and so doing saved many lives right in the midst of grave danger, but never thinking of himself. He is the doctor, with trembling hands spent countless hours on end, 7 days a week in surgery, hoping and praying the tremendous influx of wounded would stop coming. She is the nurse with soothing and caring hands tending the wounded and who fought against futility, went to sleep sobbing every night for a solid year in Vietnam.
He is the loud mouth kid, greener than two sticks, who’s foolish high school is outweighed a thousand time in the cosmic scales, by his extreme bravery or heartbreak ridge near the 38th parallel in Korea.
He is the "Fly Boy", pride of the Navy or Air Force, who has flown many harrowing missions and maybe one day shot down--barely surviving.
He is the scared 17 or 18 year old kid who has seen more horrors in a short length of time, then a town full of people will ever see in all their lifetimes put together.
He is the POW who went away one person and came back another, or maybe is still missing, or didn’t come back at all.
He is the drill sergeant who has seen much combat and is now saving more lives by turning no accounts and gang members into first rate soldiers or marines.
He is the sailor in a submarine that survived many depth charges or didn’t survive any at all, or the sailor who had one or even two ships sunk out from under him into an ocean full of sharks, scarred as hell. Believing the end had come.
He is the hero in the tombs of the unknown in Arlington National Cemetery and represents all the heroes who died on the battlefield or at sea.
He is the old guy handing out shopping carts at Wal-Mart-palsied now and very slow, who spent a long time in a Japanese prison, torture and death camp, barely surviving and when the nightmares still come, even 60 years later, wishes there were someone to comfort him, but has to face them alone.
He is the one that served his country between wars, while for the most part, was not in actual combat, it was because of him being there, patrolling the world in many tense and scary circumstances, that our country stayed safe and free.
He is an ordinary and yet extraordinary human being-one who gave some of his life’s most precious years in the service of his country. His sacrifices were many and he becomes angry now, when others bad mouth our country or desecrates the flag he so bravely fought for.
He is a soldier, a sailor, an airman, a marine, a coast guardsman, and is the finest testimony on behalf of the greatest nation on earth.
He is the one--often a very lonely one, that most people have now forgotten-–Forgotten the heavy price he paid for their freedom. When you next see him, let him know he is still remembered. A hug or a firm handshake with these two short heartfelt words "Thank You" and you just may see a tear or gleam of pride in his eyes that has not been seen for a very long time!
Korean War Veteran