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Introducing . . .

air force army marines navy Uncategorized veterans Vietnam

The presses have been silent too long.  An idea has been brewing though, that I am initiating today - a new way to introduce you to the amazing men and women I have met who are either veterans or currently serving in the military.  Many of these wish to remain anonymous, and I have struggled with how to write about them without identifying them. Let me introduce Army Soldiers Arnie and Arlene; Air Force Airmen Aiden and Ariane; Navy Seamen Nate and Nadine; and Marines Max and Mackenzie.  I will be writing using these names instead of the names of the Soldiers, Airmen, Seamen and Marines whose stories I am compelled to share, as they always amaze me. While the line from Sound of Music, "let's start at the very beginning" has a catchy tune and lyrics, I want to begin with a Vietnam Veteran, Arnie.  He isn't the first service member I interviewed, but hearing his story impacted me deeper than any other I'd heard before, and so far since. Arnie is a man who I had known awhile before finding out he had served in Vietnam.  It just isn't something he broadcasts.  He is one of the most mild mannered, gentlemanly men I know.  He agreed to meet with me at a cafe (that will be a recurring scenario in these stories).  From first hearing about 2 My Hero cards and it's mission to provide relevant, humorous and contemporary cards to honor service members Arnie has been encouraging and supportive. He told me right away that he rarely talks with anyone about his experiences.  His own son did not know until he was 13 that his dad had served in the Army in Vietnam. He referred to his time there as 23 months, 29 days of hell.  He was 18 years old.  He went because he wanted to serve his country.  As he began to describe specific situations, I was filled with an incredible sense of honor of the privilege it was to hear his stories.  He told of jungle animals he encountered, smells that words can't fully describe (mostly from dead and decaying bodies around him), terrain that taxed every cell in his body.  And yet, he fulfilled his 23 months and 29 days.  He knew he was fortunate to return alive and yet he has carried the very heavy cross of survivors guilt. He told of several times when a voice spoke to him, directing him to move to a different place just in time before gunfire rained down on the spot he had been at previously.  A couple of those times many others did not survive the gunfire.  He was not a man of faith at that time, and it baffled him.  Whose voice was that?  He knew well all the voices of his fellow soldiers and commanding officers. The voices didn't match.  He still doesn't fully understand why he was spared.  He is humble enough to treasure the lives of those who gave their lives.  Some of them had become very close friends of his. He told of letters from home, that for brief moments carried him away from the insanity around him (that also I have learned is a recurring theme). One aunt in particular gave words of hope, love and support that he still treasures in his memory because of the positive effect they had on him. His recount of those letters gave me encouragement to endeavor to provide families with cards that will have the same effect on their loved ones serving, or who have served. I learned from Arnie, the meaning behind "Welcome Home", and why veterans typically greet each other with this phrase when they meet.  Most Vietnam Veterans came home to very little in the way of welcoming.  Their greeting is a reminder to each other of the truth that their lives are treasured. It wasn't a total surprise that at times Arnie had to pause and regain composure.  I knew him to be a tender hearted man, military life aside.  This too was humbling to me.  I realized that he was again suffering for those he served, and like many civilians, my pursuit of understanding renders me naive at times.  That's part of the reason I want to write about these incredible people.  I want to help other civilians to grow in respect and understanding for what our military men and women give for the sake of maintaining the freedom we enjoy. I called him the next day to thank him again for sharing with me, and ask his forgiveness if our conversation had been too much for him.  He acknowledged it wasn't easy to bring up these things again, but he appreciated that I was sensitive to how he was doing. Of course it isn't possible for any of us who haven't walked in combat boots to fully understand what they've been through. That doesn't mean we can't listen to them, show interest and try to grasp even a little bit of deeper understanding and appreciation. Welcome Home Arnie!


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