Maine Heroes: The unnamed veterans in our lives

Posted Wednesday, May 25, 2011 in Features

Maine Heroes: The unnamed veterans in our lives

by Penny Harmon

TOGUS -- While I had originally intended to interview another one of our Maine heroes for this month’s article and had already lined one up, my experiences over the past few weeks led to me to the above title.  In part, it is because of the upcoming Memorial Day, but the truth is that you can walk down the street and pass several of them and, unless you knew them personally, you would never know that they helped to fight for freedoms. 

The last week of April, I found myself at the Togus VA Medical Center in Augusta.  My son was there for day surgery and I took the time to explore the hospital.  The pharmacy at Togus is a busy place.  At least twenty people were waiting to pick up meds.  One in particular stood out to me.  He was a stocky gentleman of about sixty-five, who sat in his wheelchair, one leg clearly missing.  As the pharmacy tech called out numbers, he was right there to echo it.  He was jovial in his actions, but you could tell he wanted the most efficiency as possible and he liked taking charge of any situation.  He was the epitome of a military man.

Unlike the previous gentleman, others walked around the halls, waiting in line for meds, the lab, or x-rays and seemed to have a look on their faces that told you they had been through a lot.  One man had a very strong presence.  About 35 to 40 years old, he stood tall and he stood proud.  However, if you really looked at him, you would see a certain emptiness in his eyes.  What had this man been through during his time in the military?  What had he seen? 

On a follow up appointment my son had, I decided to sit in my vehicle and try to put some words down on paper.  Instead of writing, however, I had a wonderful experience in meeting a gentleman and, yet, I did not get to know his name.  With the sun out, I had the window down when an old Chevy pickup truck backed into the empty parking spot beside me.  An older man of about 70 got out, humming to himself, and walked toward the hospital.  Not long after, he returned to his truck and started up a conversation. 

“Black flies are bad today, aren’t they?”  It wasn’t really a question; he was simply stating a fact.  They had come out that morning in swarms and had discovered the windows down.

Within a few moments, we were deep into a conversation about why I was waiting there and what my son had been through.  He talked of his own time in the Army and you could see the pride in his eyes.

“Boot camp was different back then,” he stated.  “I watched six of my comrades drown in boot camp.”  He recalled the times that they would be woken up in the middle of the night and were forced to do water exercises.  Unlike today, where a soldier can call a timeout, they either swam or sunk. 

He also recalled how the drill sergeants got in their faces, screaming and spitting on them.  With a twinkle in his eye, he told of how it didn’t make him angry, but instead, made him want to laugh. 

Before I could ask him his name, my son came to the car and the gentlemen started his truck and left.  His last words to me were, “Have a Happy Mother’s Day, Sweetie!”  He may have been in my life for just a short moment of time, but he is one veteran that will never be forgotten.

As you travel along your daily route, take notice of the license plates.  You will see too many of the “Purple Heart Recipient” license plates along your way.  The drivers are often young; too young, in fact, to have seen everything they have and to have been permanently scarred, whether those scars are physically seen or not.  While Bin Laden may be gone, terrorism is not.  On Memorial Day of this year, make sure you give a special thanks to all of our soldiers and their families for what they have sacrificed.

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