This is a true story from a friend of mine, who shared it with me over the weekend about an elderly veteran he met while working to conduct security clearances...
" I was reminded of the true meaning of sacrifice in the late afternoon in June 2014 when God placed a man in my path. While I was conducting some stressful work in the rural outskirts (name of town redacted but about an hour and a half from Chattanooga, Tennessee) area, I knocked on the front door of a house while conducting one of my regular investigations. It was just the neighbor of a guy I was checking out for a high level federal security clearance and it was just the usual day and the rush to get this case done to get to the next one and move on through the day and through life.
My day and life changed in an instant when an older gentleman answered the door, now in his eighties and using a walker to get around, and he greeted me. I introduced myself and he asked me to come in so I walked through the front door and only began to inform this man of my purpose for bothering him. About three steps into this quaint living room I noticed a framed think box-type picture on the wall over the television. As I stepped further, I realized that it was a shadow box and it was filled with military medals and ribbons and each were perfectly placed and spaced in their display. "Someone in this house is a Veteran," I said to myself. This fine, country gentleman turned to sit in his favorite and worn chair and I turned to sit on the couch. As soon as I sat fully on the couch the POW patch caught my eye in the case. One of the older and original patches that we see so rarely. Then hanging beside that shadow box was a black-and -white photo of a man walking down the steps of a large air liner in OD Green fatigues, the Vietnam era military uniform. Then I noticed hanging in the shadow box a Silver Star, a Purple Heart, a Bronze Star with a "V" pinned on it for Valor, and a host of other gallantry awards and decorations. Pinned at the top of the display was the name "(name redacted)" and an old and very worn patch of the "First Cav" with a Recon patch underneath it. I can still see it clearly today.
I asked this grand gentleman if the awards were his and if that was him getting off of that airplane. He said that it was and yes, they were his medals. The photo was of him getting off one of the freedom flights that brought many Vietnam POWs home from their captivity at places like the "Hanoi Hilton", which was where this man was imprisoned. I realized that I was sitting in the house and in the presence of a great man, a warrior of battle, and a giant of sacrifice. I told him that I, too, was a Veteran of the U.S. Army and he, respectfully thanked "me" for my service. My service seemed so small and insignificant as I looked into his shadow box and realized the horror that he had gone through in his valiant service. I closed my notebook and stood again to step toward his chair to simply shake his hand once again and tell him, "May God bless you and I thank you for your service, My Brother." Something about the situation struck a chord within him and a tear appeared on his cheek. I sat back down, unable to conduct a work related interview at that time, as he simply said, "It was a pleasure."
Even though I had already seen the First Cav patch and knowing that he had served with the Army, I ask the gentleman what military branch he served with in hopes of hearing some small details of his service. He told me that he was a navigator on an Air Force recon plane and his plane was shot down and he was the only one of the crew that survived. Confused, I asked him about the Army First Cav patch. He then told me that it was his brother's unit patch as his brother had been killed in action in Vietnam with the First Cav about six months before the man's plane was shot down. This faithful man had carried his brother's unit patch in his pocket on every mission since his brother had been killed. When he was shot down, he said that this patch gave him strength and while captured, he would hold the patch and talk to his brother through it and draw strength through the memory and closeness of his brother.
Throughout the next thirty minutes or so, He told me of some of the details of the suffering and torture while he was captive as a POW at the Hanoi Hilton and a few other locations I could not pronounce. He told me of a few missions that he recalled, with details so clear that it seemed as if he was reading them from a recently written book. But these details were clear due to their being burned into his mind through horrible sacrifice and suffering. Yes, this great man had suffered through and lived through Hell and he recounted these events as if they were yesterday. His voice cracked with emotion several times as he gazed off into the corner as he could see each of these memories so definitely and clearly. He could not only remember them but he also felt them. I was so honored that God had placed him in my path that day and that God wanted to touch my heart in such a way. Listening to him, I saw his pain and I felt his grief. He spoke of the wonderful men that died in captivity and the awful things that the captors did to their bodies when they died. I asked myself how men could live in these conditions and through these conditions. I was just glad that this man had lived through it. Looking around the room, I then noticed photos, proudly displayed in a variety of frames, of this man's family members who are now serving in the military. Pilots, Infantry, a Marine, one Great-Grand Daughter in the Navy, a police Officer, a Son that was now retired from the Air Force, and several others....all carrying on the tradition begun by this warrior of freedom that I was sitting near and each one carrying on a heritage of patriots for America.
Isn't that the way it is though? We pass by men and women of all ages...every day...and we don't know where they have been or what they are. There are (some - like this gentleman) that have sacrificed so much, so very much, for our wonderful Nation, and no one will ever know. I love and support our Veterans with everything I am and all that I have. But oftentimes the ones I feel sorry for are the people that don't know all that Our Veterans have sacrificed and all they have done in their service to our nation. They need to know what has been done and given to keep America free and safe. The people that don't know is one topic but the people that "don't care to know" are the ones that make me angry and sick."
If you know a veteran, THANK him or her, take the time to listen to their stories...you will be amazed!