It was your typical day. Rising at o’dark thirty, getting ready for work and driving to the train station for my commute. I chatted with my train buddies on the platform before we boarded into our own world be it napping, reading, knitting or crossword puzzles. I scanned the headlines and tweeted them out via my iPad. I checked email so my box was empty when I arrived at the office. At the final stop, I waited by the door. I had been sitting for an hour and needed to stretch.
In the seat near me was an elderly gentlemen who reminded me of my Dad. A US Army hat on his head that looked like it was his favorite and pins that told me he served in the military — enlisted. I recognized the insignia of the rank because it was what my father wore when he was active duty: E8. I have a soft spot for veterans since I have fond memories of growing up a military brat. I simply could not ignore this man so I struck up a quick conversation. I am so glad I did.
Like my father, this retired vet had served twice in Vietnam. Unlike my father, it was before the situation there became precarious in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Both he and my Dad had something else in common: US Army career men. This man served 35 years; my Dad, 26. He was now living in the Old Soldiers Home, which is where my Dad said he wants to go when he can no longer live alone. He said the waiting list was a year long, but they had plenty of room for another soldier.
This gentleman, on his way to the hospital, remarked how it tore him up to see our young soldiers in the shape there were in when they were in treatment at Walter Reed Medical Center. This is where returning war vets recoup after being wounded on the battlefront. Battlefront, while an ancient term, is still accurate today no matter what medical advances we have made. These young men and women may survive mortar attacks, IEDs and gun shots to the neck or head, but they often come back never to return to the life they had. Their path is long, hard and heartbreaking.
Nothing will make you realize the sacrifice our troops make until you see someone young enough to be your child, confined to a wheelchair pushing himself around by blowing through a straw. If your eyes do not immediately tear up, check your pulse.
For those of you who did not grow up around the military, you can better believe that the people in it are not in it for the money nor benefits — especially the enlisted troops. They enlist and reenlist for various reasons. When we wrapped up our conversation as the train arrived, he said what many of us will not say once we retire: “I would gladly serve again.”
What an inspiration he was as is anyone who has served in the military. If you do not believe you will look back and say “I would gladly serve again” in your career path, why are you still in it?