My mother’s brother was drafted as a Marine to the Vietnam war when I was twelve, where he fought on the front line. Always a favorite uncle of mine, I missed him when he was sent over seas. He sent me letters from Vietnam when he was on furlough, offering details on what it was really like in combat and how he missed his family. He sent me a pair of green silk Vietnamese pajamas that I treasured and wore to bed every night.
Being a Marine was difficult. His life was in danger every day as he dodged landmines that were killing soldiers, the very soldiers he called friends. One day while in battle, his best buddy stepped on a landmine and was killed right in front of him as pieces of shrapnel were propelled into my uncles’ legs. He returned to the States with a few Purple Hearts, but the memory of his best friend blown to pieces stayed with him forever.
My uncle was flown back to the Great Lakes Naval Base, where he was sent to recover from his wounds. Our family went to visit him, including me who was then twelve years old. Even though the age requirement for visitors was sixteen, I looked older so was able to sneak in the ward to see him. What I saw has remained embedded in my psyche forever.
There were rows of bunk-like beds with wounded soldiers wrapped in blood-soaked bandages packed into a large room. Many of them were severely injured with the loss of limbs. What I remembered the most was a soldier who had lost both arms and his legs, yet was smiling happy to see a visitor. His life would for ever be changed as he would have to adapt. All I could think about was, “how could he be smiling?”
My uncle had severe wounds from the shrapnel, yet was able to keep his limbs. He did have a head injury and had a metal plate placed in his head. In speaking with him it was apparent that mentally he would never be the same. The war had destroyed his light and his ability to laugh. He ended up an alcoholic homeless person wandering the streets of Miami, where he was severely beaten sustaining brain damage.
War veterans are the hero’s in our country, they protect us from harms way and sometimes fight battles that we have no reason to be in. Yet, they place their lives on the line every day for our freedom and maintaining peace in the world. Our support for our troops should always be a priority in America.
To all that have served, to the soldiers and their families who have lived through the pain of losing a loved one, I salute you. And, to my Uncle Tony who is missing. You are the true hero’s.
Happy Veterans Day!