I thought about a vet whom I had met sometime ago at the VA.
He was sitting alone and as usual most seats were taken. "May I" I asked inquiring about the seat beside him "Of course" he said. His shoulders were slouched forward, his balding head had some patches of grey still fighting to remain in place. His wrinkled and scared skin told of a life of much hardship. We sat for some time, neither of our numbers yet being called. "Here alone like me" he asked. "Yes Sir" I replied. "I couldn't imagine making someone wait this long with me." He laughed. "Been some time since I have been called Sir" he said. "Well, Sir, that is shame. You are my senior and much wiser than I, so with that I give you my respect." He took a deep breath and released it slowly. I introduced myself and he did the same. As I shook his hand I could feel his brittle bones beneath his skin. "Sir, we each have stories here at the VA, but something tells me that yours is a story that I would love to hear, if you wouldn't mind sharing." With that, his shoulders pulled back and he lifted his head "Not many care to even ask anymore" he said. "Well, I am asking if you are telling" I replied with a smile "After all, it doesn't seem like we are going anywhere anytime soon."
He began telling me his story from his childhood, his parents, their struggles financially, and how that lead him to the Army at a very young age. As he put it "At a young enough age that it wasn't truly permitted back then, but no one really checked." As he spoke I could hear the pride in his voice. He spoke of the countries he had visited, the battles he had fought, the friends he had made, and then his voice began to trail away as he spoke of having no friends left. "Its a hard thing young man" he stated. "What is Sir?" I inquired. "Out living your friends and family." he said. His shoulders slouched once again as his head and eyes fell to the ground. "My wife passed many years ago and so did our two children. Just me now. Ahhh, I kept in touch with a few military friends, even went to a few unit reunions, but less and less people came year after year. Finally, there were just no others left. I guess just me." "But Sir, you have something that most of us wish for." "And what is that" he said as he turned to look at me. "A life well lived and a life full of memories." He nodded and then said "Funny thing about memories. They bring such joy but also a lot of pain."
His name was finally called. I stood up and helped him to his feet. "Much obliged" he said taking me back to his good ole days when people actually acknowledged each other for doing things for each other. "Thank you for your time Sir. It has been my honor." I said to him. He nodded and said "Thanks for listening to this old man ramble on."
I saw him from time to time at the VA. If I saw him first I made the conscious effort to say hello to him and sit by him. I believe he did the same for me. Then one day, I didn't see him any longer. I asked around, but no one seemed to know who I was speaking about. I asked those seated at the desks at the VA but they could not tell me anything about any other veterans. My mind raced trying to think how I could reach him. How I could ask him to continue to tell his story. It was far from over. But I never saw him again.
On this memorial day I thought of a veteran. No physically he had not fallen during his time in combat but through his stories of life he had revealed that many times a part of him had died.
My hope today is that we remember the fallen. My prayer today is that we listen to those still present. One day all we will have will be our memories. Many of our veterans are hoping that you will hold a special memory of them.