Two years ago, I was sitting in a doctor’s office waiting to have yet another test done on one of my service-connected conditions and an elderly gentleman asked me about the book I was reading. We started chatting and somewhere along the way I referenced something about Afghanistan. The gentleman began asking me questions about my service and it became apparent that he had served as well. I began to ask him about his service and he briefly answered my questions but continued to turn the conversation back to my service, saying that he found it “fascinating” and that his service “wasn’t that interesting.” We talked for quite awhile, with him asking all sorts of questions about Afghanistan and what it was like to be an intelligence officer and he seemed utterly delighted to hear my answers (he thought it especially interesting that I had been a Captain when I got out and he only a lieutenant – he even saluted me!).
Finally, towards the end of our chat, I got him to talk more about himself. It turns out that he had been a WWII navigator. One day, he was asked to substitute on another crew, and on that mission, he was shot down over Germany and taken prisoner for 18 months. He talked about marching for days in the snow in only two pair of socks and how, when they would stop for the night, he would take them off and squeeze out the blood – he kept repeating the squeezing motion and telling me he could still remember that clear as day. After he was freed by Patton’s Army, he ran into a member of his original crew. They had also been shot down and all but one taken prisoner, that one was caught by townspeople and pitchforked to death.
I was in AWE, sheer awe. This man had been through things I could not even imagine and was so humble, more interested in asking about my service and what I had seen and done than he was in telling me about his service and the utterly incredible things he had seen and done. When the doctor called my name, I was truly sad to go, wishing I could have spent more time with that gentleman. As I got up and made my way across the waiting room, I heard him lean across to a man and start to tell him about my service.
When I took my oath, to support and defend this great nation, it didn’t really hit me that doing so would link me forever with men like this, that I would have the privilege of wearing the same title of veteran as this man. To this day, that thought still leaves me speechless. I am a link, a link between the men and women who came before me, who sacrificed more than many can even fathom, and those who have and will come after. All of us loving this country enough to be willing to fight and die for it. And it is the greatest honor I could ever hope to earn.
Thank you to my fellow veterans. To those who endured early morning runs and bad food, months and years away from family and friends with missed birthdays and anniversaries, more physical strain and mental anguish than you thought you were capable of, sandstorms and mustard gas, jungle rot and malaria, phantom limbs and friends whose presence will never stop being missed, captivity and abuse, injuries that will never heal and scars that will never fade – you have paid the price of admission to that hallowed group of individuals who carry the title of veteran. We remember and we are grateful.
I also want to take a moment to recognize a few individuals who are still serving this Veterans Day. To Ryan in Bahrain and Cpl McAvoy and his fellow Marines, who are currently floating somewhere in the Pacific Ocean, thank you for your service and for your continued sacrifices so that this nation can remain free.
© 2013, Sarah Maples. All rights reserved.