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Veterans Day

November 11, 2013

Today we salute all who have worn a uniform and served our country. Having never served, I’m not included in this distinguished group of heroes. I’ve heard phrases like “Band of Brothers” and “Comrades in Arms” and wondered how different my life might have been had I heeded the call. When this season of thanksgiving rolls by, I listen to stories of heroism and sacrifice. Like many who stood on the sidelines, I shed tears when seeing pictures of unbelievable sacrifice, men and women with broken bodies trying to rebuild their lives. It isn’t difficult to support patriots with mangled bodies. Their wounds are often easy to see and deserving of respect, but too many soldiers carry less obvious scars of war.


An acquaintance, I’ll call him Paul, served in Vietnam. Paul doesn’t make a habit of discussing his war experiences but one time he opened up and told a story I’ll never forget. This was in the late sixties and Americans were being killed in large numbers. Paul and his platoon were on patrol. Their job was to clear a road through the jungle for platoons following behind.


Something rustled in the undergrowth. Paul aimed his M-16 and fired. A boy around eight years old staggered out of the jungle. Paul had shot him in the head. Children were trained to carry guns and shoot Americans, but this boy was not armed.


Paul approached and used the few words of Vietnamese he knew, but the youngster said nothing. He noticed the bullet had lodged near the boy’s temple, beneath the skin and against the skull, looking like a protruding tumor. The boy was a motionless mannequin as Paul reached for the hunting knife he always carried. He made a slit on the side of the kid’s head and squeezed out the unexploded bullet. Before he could call for a medic or wrap the boy’s head with a cloth, the kid backed away into the underbrush and disappeared.


But he reappeared later—in Paul’s dreams. In fact, after all these years that kid appears regularly at night when Paul closes his eyes and thinks about his wife and daughters, who happen to be close in age to the boy their dad shot.


Had circumstances been different, had that boy been armed, Paul might not have made it home alive. But this doesn’t prevent Paul from acknowledging, “Can you imagine how much horror someone must have experienced to be that young and not cry or whimper when someone cuts a bullet out of your head? What kind of hell was that child experiencing?” Paul tells this as if he’s still squatting in the jungle with his knife in hand.


“That kid comes to me in my dreams on most nights,” Paul admits. “I see him standing before me, a blank expression blanketing his despair. Did he survive the war? If so does he look at that scar in a mirror and hate the American who shot him? In another time and place he might be on a playground pushing my little girls on a merry-go-round.”


For Paul, there is no happy ending to this story. After all these years Paul continues to be haunted by his memories, of which this is only one, but it makes me think of all the men and women in uniform who carry around invisible scars that deserve our respect as much as more obvious injuries. When I climb into bed at night and close my eyes, I’m not haunted by disturbing images seared into my memory, images of what I did, what I needed to do to stay alive and defend my comrades. And I know who I have to thank for the ability to sleep soundly in a warm bed—people like Paul who have shouldered the responsibility for the freedom and security so many of us take for granted.




In Honor of Veterans Day.


a very powerful story. one of my brothers served on a road crew in vietnam. i have never heard him talk of any of it.
By: TexWisGirl on November 11, 2013
A well written tribute to Paul, his fellow comrades and to all those who have served their respective countries. In Canada and in all Commonwealth nations we refer to this day as Remembrance Day. We were Allies and today we Remember those served and fallen together.
By: Daniel LaFrance on November 11, 2013
Powerful stuff. It highlights the importance of helping soldiers adapt back to normal life, something we are not very good at in America saying mostly that they should just suck it up and move on.
By: PT Dilloway on November 11, 2013
I cry for Paul AND that little boy!!
By: fishducky on November 11, 2013
Thanks for sharing this moving story. It's the most profound entry for Veteran's day I've come across today.
By: Michael Offutt on November 11, 2013
Heartbreaking. Love, Janie
By: Janie Junebug on November 11, 2013
Thanks for sharing, it's stories like this that remind us just how lucky we are
By: Hey Monkey Butt on November 11, 2013
Thanks for the moving story. So many Veterans don't get the respect they deserve.
By: David Walston on November 11, 2013
An extraordinarily powerful post. William Tecumseh Sherman nailed it when he said "War is hell!" Men and women who have been to war are due a great measure of support and respect.
By: Tom Cochrun on November 11, 2013
An incredibly moving, wrenching story. I am eternally grateful to people like Paul, who have sacrificed so much.
By: Shelly on November 11, 2013
The hidden scars are the worst.
By: Tabor on November 11, 2013
It makes me wonder why so many people can be callous toward these heroes.
By: mimi on November 11, 2013
To piggyback on Tom's comment, Robert E. Lee had this to say at Fredricksburg (I'm paraphrasing): "It's a good thing that war is so terrible lest we grow fond of it." Amen.
By: Al Penwasser on November 11, 2013
A very moving story. I can't even imagine how someone could get past such an experience.
By: Pixel Peeper on November 11, 2013
paul, like that young boy has suffered greatly at the hands of those who began these wars. we simply must do a better job of diplomacy and of caring for the men and women we send so cavalierly into battle. i thank paul for his service. i wish him healing and peace, which i am sure may seem elusive.
By: lime on November 11, 2013
Your words are incredibly moving, telling this story on Veteran's Day. THANK YOU to Paul and every other vet who served and made me safe.
By: Bouncin Barb on November 11, 2013
My stepson did three tours in Iraq, as a Sgt. with the Army National Guard, clearing IEDs every day. He is fortunate that the only physical damage was to his hearing. He used to talk of getting a tattoo with the initials of the men he lost. As the number grew, he stopped talking.
By: Val on November 11, 2013
That's a story that is much more common than we think. As in Paul's case the story could have remained untold.
By: red on November 11, 2013
War is such a terrible thing, thank you for sharing this story.
By: John on November 12, 2013
Wow, that is such a powerful story. My brother served 4 tours in Viet Nam and came home a very different person than the brother I knew when he left in 1968. In October of 1971 when he came home, soldiers were treated very ugly and it didn't help him to make forget with 3+ years,or the events that led to a Purple Heart and a Silver Cross. . He managed to regroup and have a good life but he too is still haunted by things that happened there.
By: Cheryl P. on November 12, 2013
i find it sad that after thousands of years we still haven't found a way of solving our problems without fighting - this story really underlines the grim reality and horror of war - thank you for sharing and making me think
By: dont feed the pixies on November 13, 2013
Well said.
By: The Bug on November 14, 2013
Stephen: I believe our awareness of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder arose from young men who served in Vietnam. This was a very heartfelt post!
By: Michael Manning on November 14, 2013
A very powerful post, Stephen. I can't imagine the horror of that experience. Paul would have been haunted even more deeply if he had killed that child.
By: Hilary on November 15, 2013

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