Come 3 p.m. Monday, I hope you’ll make time to take the time to pause and reflect during our national minute of remembrance. For many folks, that will be easy, as their families have paid the price of losing someone in the service of their country.
Come 3 p.m. Monday, I hope you’ll make time to take the time to pause and reflect during our national minute of remembrance.
For many folks, that will be easy, as their families have paid the price of losing someone in the service of their country.
My son Joshua was the first in our family to serve the country’s military in two generations.
Last year at this time, he was driving a Bradley fighting machine on the outskirts of Sadr City in Iraq. He returned stateside in January after his 15-month tour of duty was up.
Now he’s more like a typical 21-year-old trying to figure out what to do with the rest of his life. One day he’s staying in the army, the next he’s going to get out and do something else.
Tough times, but I’m thankful he’s able to struggle past those bumps and forks on life’s road. And I remain proud he volunteered to serve this country both on base and on the battlefield.
I can’t say that I know anyone personally who went off to battle and never returned, but I do recall a couple of stories from my youth.
There was a boy named Jack Healey who lived up the street on the next block. We didn’t hang out too much together, since most boys 8 and 9 weren’t allowed to just wander the neighborhood up to the next block without mom’s permission.
Jack was a big kid for his age, as I remember, his face round with the pudginess of youth and always smiling.
There weren’t enough kids on our block to field a whole team, so we would combine blocks when we could to fill the field. He often played catcher for our neighborhood baseball team when we would play another neighborhood on the ball diamond up at Indian Ridge School in Northbrook, Ill.
We didn’t see Jack for a long time the summer I turned 9. I remember someone saying his older brother had been killed in Vietnam – a place we only knew from the TV news if we had to watch it – and that he had gone to live with his aunt or someone.
A more vivid memory was later that year when mom came to pull me out of school early one day. She was visibly upset, and as she walked me out to the old Ford station wagon, I asked her what was wrong. Alice Merker was a classmate, and although we weren’t friends, her mom and mine were.
Very close friends.
Mom said that we had to go see her, that she needed mom’s help. I didn’t understand what that had to do with leaving school, not that I really minded the reprieve from the classroom.
Mom explained to me once I was buckled in the safety belt that Alice’s older brother served in the army. His helicopter had been shot down and exploded on impact.
I can vaguely remember sitting very still for what seemed like hours at Alice’s house until dad showed up to take my younger brother and I home.
That was in 1969.
Years later, in college, I became friends with a Vietnam vet who was taking classes on the GI Bill. He had served in the Air Force, but didn’t get the cushy job he had expected.
He was assigned to rescue and recovery of crashed aircraft.
“Rescue ‘em if they’re alive, recover ‘em if they ain’t,” I can still hear him explain one night over cold drafts. “Bodies and flight recorders, that’s what we had to get.”
The crash site often attracted the attention of the North Vietnamese, and it was a race to see who could get there first.
Often the job was harrowing, which is a word writers use for things like “the jungles were full of the enemy shooting at us and trying to kill us.”
I don’t think John Patterson was ever wounded, but I remember a few stories about comrades who were, sometimes even being hit once they reached the relative safety of their helicopter.
One night in the early ‘80s, John and I had had too much to drink and I crashed on his couch.
Although sleeping off the effects of the previous evening’s libations, to this day, I recall being awakened about four in the morning to the sound of John screaming.
I asked him about it the next morning while we were drinking coffee. He tried to laugh it off, saying that happened sometimes.
Like many Vietnam War veterans, he didn’t want to talk about it. And like many veterans of that war, he served his country in the jungles of a place a half-world away, and continued to pay the price long after he returned.
John eventually married another college friend of ours, and together they’ve raised a family, so I guess it worked out in the end.
We as a country owe more than a debt of gratitude to the men and women who have secured our freedom. We owe them proper services once they return home to leave “over there” behind them.
This Memorial Day, we need to not only remember those who have paid the ultimate price, but those who continued to pay once they returned home.
Pentagon bureaucrats and Congress need to know we’re watching.
Let them know you are.