Military stories from past to present, both wars.

Taking care of a Vet and fellow Marine

April 5th, 2009 Posted in The SandGram v1.0

Dear Gang,
A few days ago, driving home from my daughters school, I stop by our small neighborhood watch office to chat with Dan our local Police officer.  He’s a retired Army LtCol and one helluva a cop to have one our side protecting us.  He rotated the computer screen he was working on to show me a report on a man that was taken to the hospital that morning having suffered a stroke. This man lived downed the street from me and when I saw his name, Richard Shaw, I gasped since he was a fellow Marine, a Vietnam Veteran and retired Police Officer.  The initial report was that he was hit by a car and left for dead in his yard, but as they investigated, it looked like he had a stroke, fell down hurting himself and then disoriented passed out in the yard next to the street and wasn’t found until the morning, a very sad way to go for a man as great as Richard was.

I went walking two days later and saw his garage door open so I stop by to see how he was.  His brother in law, George, informed me that Richard had passed away at the hospital.  I was floored.  He had just stop by my house a week prior asking me if he should accept a contracting job over in Iraq working with the Iraqi police. We talked about it for an hour or more before he jumped on his Harley and took off again.

The local Marines in the neighborhood are going to be pallbearers for the funeral this Tuesday.  How is this for representation? A retired three star Marine General, a LtCol reserve guy (me) , a retired Gunny and former Cpl?  We have all split bread, cut the birthday cake together during November 10th celebrations at the local bar and just been great friends through our association in the Corps.  Vets taking care of Vets.  I came across this great piece by Patricia Salwei  on Vets that I thought I should share. Please pass it on.  Take care and I’ll talk to you soon.
Semper Fi,

A Point of View
By Patricia Salwei
I approached the entrance to Fort Belvoir’s medical facility last year as an old veteran puttered towards me.  Easily over 80 years old, stooped and slow, I barely gave him a second glance because on his heels was a full bird colonel.
As they approached, I rendered a sharp salute and barked, “Good morning, Sir!” Because they were heel to toe, I began my salute as the old veteran was about two paces from me.  He immediately came to life!
Transformed by my greeting, he rose to his full height, returned my salute with pride, and exclaimed, “Good morning, Captain!” I was startled, but the full bird behind him was flabbergasted.  The colonel stopped mid-salute, smiled at me and quietly moved on.
As I entered the clinic, the utter beauty of the encounter preoccupied me.
What prompted the old man to assume that I was saluting him.  Perhaps he just thought, “It’s about time!” After all, doesn’t a veteran outrank us all?
I turned my attention to the waiting room taking a moment to survey the veterans there.  Service people rushed around, loudspeakers blared, the bell for the prescription window kept ringing.  It was a whirl of activity and the older veterans sat quietly on the outside seemingly out of step, patiently waiting to be seen.  Nobody was seeing.
My old friend stayed on my mind.  I began to pay attention to the military’s attitude towards its veterans.  I witnessed indifference: Impatient soldiers and airmen plowing over little old ladies at the commissary; I noticed my own agitation as an older couple cornered me at the Officer’s Club and began reminiscing about their tour in Germany.
To our disgrace, I have also witnessed disdain: At Ramstein Air Base terminal, an airman was condescending and borderline cruel with a deaf veteran flying Space Available; an ancient woman wearing a WACS button was shoved aside by a cadet at the Women’s Memorial dedication in D.C.; a member of the color guard turned away in disgust from a drunk Vietnam vet trying to talk to him before the Veteran’s Day Ceremony at the Vietnam War Memorial.
Have you been to a ceremony at the Wall lately?  How about a Veteran’s Day parade in a small town?  The crowds are growing faint.  Why do we expect the general public to care if we don’t?  We are getting comfortable again..
It is not my intention to minimize the selfless service of our modern military; my comrades are the greatest people I know.  But lately I’m wondering if the public’s attitude towards the military isn’t just a reflection of the active duty military’s attitude towards its own veterans.
It’s time to ask — do we regard them, do we consider them at all?  How does our attitude change when the hero is no longer wearing a uniform?
I was proud to wear my uniform.  Can I admit that I thought it was cool?  There is no denying that there is something about our profession, combined with youth, that feeds the ego a little.
We have all seen a young pilot strut into the Officer’s Club with his flight suit on.  He matters; he takes on the room; he knows he can take on the world.  But, one day he will leave his jet for a desk, and eventually he will have to hang up that flight suit.  A super hero hanging up his cape.
How will we measure his value then?  He will no longer look like a pilot, an officer, a colonel.  He’ll just look like an old man coming out of the clinic with his prescription.
But, is he less of a hero?  Will anybody remember or care about all the months he spent away from his newborn daughter while making peace a possibility in the Balkans?  Probably not.
Our society has a short memory.  Maybe it is not for the protected to understand.  Rather, it is my hope that when a young lieutenant walks by him they will each see themselves reflected in the other — one’s future, the other’s past.  In that moment, perhaps, the lieutenant will also see the hero, now disguised as an old man, and thank him.
The truth is there are heroes in disguise everywhere.  I used to wonder why people would want to chat with me when I was in uniform, telling me about their four years as a radio operator in Korea.  So what?  I wasn’t impressed relative to my own experiences.  Now I understand that they were telling me because nobody else cared.  Proud of their service, no matter how limited, and still in love with our country, they were trying to stay connected.  Their stories were a code for “I understand and appreciate you, can you appreciate me?”
The answer is yes.  I separated from the military in February.  I’m out of the club.  Still, I want you to know that I’ll attend the parades, visit the memorials, and honor you while my kids and your kids are watching.
Then, maybe someday when I’m an old woman riding the metro, a young airman will take a moment of her time to listen to one of my war stories.  I, in turn, will soak in her beauty and strength, and remember.
Today as I reflect on my adventures in the Air Force, I’m thinking of that ancient warrior I collided with at Fort Belvoir.  I’m wondering where he is, if he’s still alive, if it’s too late to thank him.
I want to start a campaign in his honor — Salute a Veteran.  Yes, this started out as a misunderstanding on my part.  But, now I get it.  That day was the first time in my life that I really understood what it meant to salute someone.
Dear Veteran, I recognize and hail you!  I do understand what I have and what you have given to make it possible.  So I’m wondering, if we meet on the street again.may I salute you