On a very late Sunday evening, I found myself at a neighborhood bar (I had Monday off). Before I knew it, I was engaged in a long conversation with an animated 76-year-old Vietnam veteran. We covered just about every topic you could imagine, including politics, music, and education. However, most of our conversation centered on his military service. Just a few of the anecdotes he shared with me…
– A Los Angeles native and UCLA graduate, he didn’t have any plans of joining the military. But when he received his draft letter from the President of the United States, he tried to dodge the Army by saying he was enrolling in grad school. There was no record of his intent to do so and thus his petition was denied and he was sent to Ft. Lewis.
– Because he did have a college degree, the veteran I talked to on Sunday night wasn’t supposed to be on the front lines. But the intensity and demand of the Vietnam War landed him in the Infantry unit after he was already on tour in the country in a non-infantry role.
– He told me that his unit had many WWII veterans fighting with them. He told me they were mostly in their 40s and had lines on their uniform sleeves indicating their years of service. Obviously, these WWII vets had many lines. The vet I chatted with told me that he became good friends with one of these soldiers who unfortunately died when he stepped on a land mine.
– This vet shared with me a lot of stuff about a certain natural human activity that is inappropriate for a family blog like this one. However, one related tidbit I am comfortable sharing was what my new friend said was the chief concern among soldiers who woke up in a military treatment facility after being wounded in battle. This guy, who received a Purple Heart and went through his own awakening, said this was always the first question: Is it all still there?
But probably the most memorable and substantial part of our long conversation related to heroism. He passionately expressed that veterans should always be thanked for their service but not all should be heralded as heroes. He talked about how he believed that only those who fought bravely on the front lines or didn’t come back were heroes. He mentioned that those who performed non-combat roles, even though they were in Vietnam, should be revered with gratitude but not elevated on a pedestal.
Of course for a non-veteran like myself, I see things a little different. From my point of view, I consider anyone who leaves their family and their dreams to defend our country (in any role) a hero. But at the same time, I can understand where the veteran was coming from. This conversation spurred off into a general philosophical discussion on heroism but his specific thoughts on military heroes really stuck with me.
Sometimes our human tendency is to withdraw in the presence of people we don’t know. I am guilty of this. Many times I might not be overly enthusiastic about chatting with the person next to me on the airplane or striking up a conversation with the man at the bar. But if we are open to getting over ourselves by getting to know our fellow brother or sister, you can walk away from everyday situations feeling much more enlightened. Don’t Blink.