I have blogged previously on the VetsFirst website about how sharply I remember my cousin’s husband’s cousin. He was hit by eleven enemy machine gun rounds in Vietnam in 1967. He lost an eye and a kidney, and at least one round pierced his spinal cord, paralyzing him. I met him when we were both receiving physical rehabilitation at a VA Medical Center. Although obviously in a lot of pain, he managed to be affable and self-effacing almost all of the time. Shortly after leaving the VAMC in early 1971, sadly he died in his sleep.
I can tell you that I have thought about this brave and very tough young man on every Memorial Day and Veterans Day since he passed away. I look in the mirror today and I see a slightly crooked, aging quadriplegic, but my cousin’s husband’s cousin is as youthful in my mind as the day that we first met.
Fast forward about 30 or more years, and I’m sitting at my kitchen table reading my high school alumni news magazine. There’s a long story about a young graduate of my high school who lost his life during the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom. I also notice a separate box on the same page, which is a list of all my high school’s graduates who have paid the ultimate price while serving their country. A familiar name jumps out of the box of a young man who I became friendly with in my last year of high school. I am shocked to read his name on that page.
I did a little research on a site created by Vietnam veterans that provides whatever information is known or recalled about the passing of as many soldiers as possible in country. All that I found was a sentence confirming that my high school friend was KIA shortly after arriving there.
So, I remember the one day in our American Government class in our senior year when our teacher was lecturing, but my friend and I were busy having our own conversation across the aisle. Suddenly, we hear our last names spoken in anger, followed by the order, “out the back door!”
I remember that my buddy went out into the locker-lined hallway first, mainly because I saw him flying across the hall into the lockers. I barely moved out the back door turning to the left when I received my punch and my flight into the lockers. All I heard after that was one sentence, briefly, from our teacher: “Vice-principal’s office, now!” Translation – seniors or not, we were going to work for free cleaning something in the high school and our parents will know all about our transgression.
Like my cousin’s husband’s cousin, I now add my high school friend to my thoughts and prayers on Veterans Day, another young man in his early twenties who paid the ultimate price.
Most recently, just a few weeks ago, came the news from a friend that a soldier serving in Afghanistan with my friend’s son was killed by an improvised explosive device. The young man who died was in his 14th deployment overseas. I did not know him but I did receive a photo of him. On this coming Veteran’s Day, I will pray for him and for the family he leaves behind, and I will look at his picture in silent prayer.
Many of our best and brightest men and women have been killed or injured in service to their country. Whatever higher power you believe in, on Veteran’s Day please pray for our service members who have made the ultimate sacrifice.
Chair of the VetsFirst Committee